UCMJ Article 138 Complaints of Wrongs

Home | UCMJ Article 138 Complaints of Wrongs

UCMJ Article 138 Attorney

When someone enters the military, they usually recognize that they are submitting to an authority structure. They do so willingly because they understand that they are making a decision that could potentially cost them their lives. They trust that authority and structure to protect their lives as much as can be reasonably expected. The sacrifice that service members are willing to make in submission to that authority structure, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice, is something that should be honored and respected.

That reality is what makes abuse of that authority all the more egregious. Military law recognizes that as well. While the UCMJ is usually thought of as a set of rules and regulations for the military, with consequences for violations of them, it also provides protections for those who have submitted to authority. Article 138 is one of these protections. When used properly, it can prevent the authority from becoming abusive, which in turn strengthens the structure of the military and allows it to better serve its purpose. If you’ve been a victim of a wrong from a military authority, you should consider what Article 138 can do for you.

Article 138

Article 138 provides a general guidance that “wrongs” within the military structure need to be addressed. Each branch of the military has similar, though slightly different, definitions of what makes something “wrong” and the processes for addressing them. Generally, though, they define a “wrong” as when an authority figure behaves in a manner that is an abuse of their authority rather than a constructive use of it that is in line with serving the military’s goals. The process, while unique in each case, takes these complaints seriously and seeks to correct and prevent them from continuing while addressing what has happened.

It’s important that these kinds of abuses get addressed. Their existence and occurrence are corrosive to the effectiveness of the structure and purpose of military authority. The more these kinds of things happen, the less trust there is in those in authority and in the structure as a whole. In situations involving high stakes, like the military prepares for and is involved in, it can cost people’s lives. It’s critical that, if you are aware of these kinds of things occurring, you seek the aid of a military lawyer, like those at The Law Center P.C., to help address them. Doing so can help protect and preserve the strength of the military.


Q: How Does Each Branch of the Military Define a “Wrong?”

A: UCMJ Article 138 may allow service members to address “wrongs,” but it leaves the question of what constitutes a “wrong.” The answer, along with the Article 138 process, is slightly different in each branch. The language used in the descriptions is purposefully opaque, ostensibly so that it can offer a broad range of protection for service members. Of course, that lack of clarity could also be used as a reason to strike down a complaint as well, which is why it’s important to work with a skilled military lawyer to give your complaint the clarity, conciseness, and persuasiveness that will allow decision-makers to recognize the reality of the situation. Each of the military branches defines “wrong” as follows:

  • Army – “Wrongs” must be either an act or failure to act that results in harm. Furthermore, that action or inaction must be the result of a violation of a law or military regulation, arbitrary, beyond legitimate authority, capricious, materially unfair, or discretionarily abusive.
  • Navy/Marine Corps – “Wrongs” are actions or inactions that are discretionary and result in harm, injury, or another detriment. They must be arbitrary, unauthorized, discriminatory, unjust, capricious, or properly capable of redress.
  • Air Force – “Wrongs” are also inactions or actions that are beyond legitimate authority, in violation of military law or regulation, arbitrary, abusive, capricious, or clearly unfair.

Q: How Soon Do I Need to Bring an Article 138 Complaint?

A: Generally, an Article 138 complaint will need to be filed within 90 days of when a wrong was discovered. However, there is also a prerequisite before filing a complaint. A service member needs to first go to their commanding officer, notify them of the wrong, and ask for relief. This must be in writing. Only once this is done, and if it is denied, can a full complaint be filed.

Q: What Must Be Included in a Notification to a Commanding Officer?

A: The prerequisite notification must be submitted to a commanding officer before a service member can file a full complaint. That initial notification must follow particular procedures. It must:

  • Be in writing.
  • Be signed by the complainant.
  • Identify the relationship between the complainant and the respondent.
  • Identify the date and nature of the alleged wrong.
  • Be submitted through proper command channels.

Q: How Can a Lawyer Help With an Article 138 Complaint?

A: Your chances of getting your complaint addressed are directly dependent upon how well you can communicate the nature of the situation for which you are asking for redress. A lawyer can help represent you through the process. We can help ensure that you are following proper procedures and channels. Importantly, it’s critical that your notification to your commanding officer and the complaint itself be a clear description of the wrong that needs addressing, as that will determine whether the process proceeds forward or not. At The Law Center P.C., we can use our experience to help you craft a complaint that expresses the problem in a compelling, concise way.

Let Us Help Get Wrongs Redressed

Following orders and respecting authority structures are critical to military function. However, that doesn’t mean that abuse of authority should be tolerated. UCMJ Article 138 provides a means for addressing these kinds of abuses and seeing that they aren’t tolerated. If you have discovered or been subject to a wrong that should be addressed, then you should take advantage of everything that Article 138 allows. To do so, though, you can benefit from working with a lawyer who understands the process and how to craft a compelling complaint. Contact The Law Center P.C. today for help with getting your case handled.


Map & Location