What should you know about AWOL charges?

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | Military Law

Understanding the consequences of being absent without leave (AWOL) is crucial for service members. AWOL refers to a situation wherein a military member is absent from their assigned place of duty without proper authorization. This kind of absence is taken seriously and can lead to various forms of disciplinary action.

The guidelines and repercussions of AWOL are defined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a comprehensive legal framework that governs the conduct of the United States Armed Forces. While each case of AWOL involves unique circumstances, the UCMJ provides a general structure for dealing with such incidents. It’s important for service members to be aware of these standards to avoid unintended violations.

What constitutes AWOL?

AWOL status isn’t limited to just failing to show up for duty. It can include leaving a duty station without permission, being absent from a unit, organization or place of duty at the ordered time or even failing to return from a leave or pass on time. These actions can be classified as AWOL because they all involve a lack of proper authorization for the absence.

The length and circumstances of the absence play a significant role in determining the severity of the charge. For instance, leaving without permission during a critical mission or war time is viewed more severely than being late returning from leave. Each situation is evaluated based on its unique factors, including the member’s intent, duration of absence and the impact on their unit.

Potential punishments for AWOL

Punishments for AWOL vary based on the situation and can range from mild to severe. Under the UCMJ, potential consequences include non-judicial punishment, court-martial, administrative separation or imprisonment. The decision on the punishment type often hinges on factors like the length of the absence and the service member’s previous conduct record.

In less severe cases, punishments might be limited to docked pay, reduction in rank or extra duties. However, in more extreme instances, such as prolonged unauthorized absence or desertion, the consequences can include imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge, in particular, carries long-term implications, affecting a service member’s veteran benefits and civilian employment opportunities.

Service members have rights, one of which is to defend against these types of charges. As such, working with a legal representative familiar with these situations is critical.