Eliminate Administrative Discharges in Lieu of Court-Martial:

Guidance for Plea Agreements in Military Courts Is Needed

FPCD-77-47: Published: Apr 28, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1978.

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Plea bargaining in the military involves the exchange of a guilty plea for reduced charges or a specific minimum sentence. It also includes exchanging an admission of guilt to an offense punishable by a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge imposed by a military court for the assurance that the accused will not be brought to trial but instead will be administratively discharged. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not cover plea agreements or discharges in lieu of court-martial, and they are not addressed in the Manual for Courts-Martial in which the President establishes procedural rules.

Disparities in service policies and regulations governing the results of plea bargaining mean that people charged with the same crimes often are treated differently. The option of a discharge in lieu of court-martial also allows similar cases to be disposed of either administratively or under the judicial process which further contributes to the nonuniform treatment of individuals. The services often use the discharge in lieu of court-martial as an expedient way to get rid of people. Such discharges have risen from less than 500 in 1967 to almost 27,000 in fiscal year 1976. About 90-percent result in the most severe type of administrative discharge -- a discharge under other than honorable conditions. Although not designated punitive, this discharge has the same effect in terms of restricting eligibility for veteran benefits and limiting civilian employment opportunities. Military courts appear more hesitant to impose punitive discharges than are discharge authorities to approve requests for discharges which are potentially as harmful.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: Because discharges in lieu of court-martial limit the effectiveness of the military service and allow symptoms of a problem to be treated rather than its root cause, the Secretary of Defense should revise the directive on administrative discharges to eliminate discharges in lieu of court-martial and direct the services to dispose of criminal charges in a manner consistent with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Manual for Courts-Martial. The President, in the Manual for Courts-Martial, should provide policy guidance, procedures, rules, standards, and format on the use of plea agreements in military courts.

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