Table of Contents
The JAG Corps is the legal branch of the Colonial Fleet, tasked with advising the Fleet on all legal matters related to the conduct of military operations. It primarily concerns itself with enforcement of the Colonial Code of Military Justice (CCMJ), details of which can be found on this page.
JAG is laid out differently then most other departments. Where as other departments have a clear structure, JAG are considered 'Senior' or 'Junior' Partners and report directly to the 'Judge Advocate', typically a Colonel, Commander or Admiral back at Fleet JAG Head Quarters. On board a deployed fleet vessel the senior-most JAG reports to the ship's Commanding Officer or Executive Officer. However, they may also report a situation to the relevant Department Head if the CO and XO are unavailable. It is quite possible for a Captain to be considered a Senior Partner, while a Major is considered a Junior Partner. Legal Aides report and subordinate to all lawyers, Senior or Junior. Amongst the Legal Aides, regardless of rank, no one is subordinate to the other.
The CoC (Chain of Command) for JAG looks like this:
Judge Advocate General
The Assistant Judge Advocate General
Senior Partners - Judge Advocates
Junior Partners - Judge Advocates
- Prosecutor's Office
- Defense Counsel
- Fleet Police
The foundation of military law is established by the Colonial Code of Military Justice (CCMJ), of which all members of the armed forces are subject to. The CCMJ sets forth, among other things, rights of the accused, procedures and authorities for court martial, punitive articles (crimes), and punishments. For RP purposes, you can assume that the CCMJ is generally equivalent to the United States Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This is what staff uses as the basis for offenses and punishments.
The CCMJ is implemented by the Judge Advocate General (JAG), which appoints court officers to prosecute, defend, and judge the guilt or innocence of the accused. Officially, all military officers are vested the power to enforce the CCMJ, but practically, designated units carry out this function. Aboard the Cerberus, this unit is the military police detachment of the Colonial Marines. On smaller ships, such as fleet patrol vessels, Navy personnel may be charged with these duties.
When an arrest is made, the immediate commanding officer of the accused is designated the convening authority. This person is the only one with the power to initiate criminal proceedings. The authority should investigate (or direct investigation of) the case and decide to:
- Dismiss the charges, citing lack of merit or evidence. As a matter of policy, dismissed cases are expunged from the service member's records. In some cases, the commanding officer may dismiss the charges with a verbal warning and "off-the-record" punishment such as extra duty or cleaning the heads. This is usually done if the commander believes the soldier deserves a chance to redeem himself without a formal black mark on his record.
- Perform non-judicial punishment (NJP), to administratively punish the accused without a trial. This can only be done for minor crimes (misdemeanors), and the maximum punishments are limited. They can include: a formal letter of reprimand, reduction in rank (possible only for enlisted personnel E3 and under), confinement not to exceed one week, or up to 30 days restriction (house arrest, loss of shore leave or other privileges, etc.). NJP results in a black mark on the accused's permanent file. The accused may request a court martial in lieu of non-judicial punishment.
- Convene a court martial, a formal trial with greater scope of authority but greater logistical inconvenience. More information below.
A distinction should be made between officer and commanding officer. For example, a platoon leader is typically an officer, but the commanding officer is the company commander. In the Cerberus theme, the commanding officer would be the department head. A superior commanding officer may take over as convening authority at any time.
A court martial (pl: courts martial) is a formal military trial. It is an adversarial process with trial counsel, defense counsel, judge, and panel (jury). A court martial is convened when requested by a lawful convening authority. The most senior JAG official may act as judge. There are three types of courts martial, with decreasing scope:
- General, a complete trial with a full panel of six peers, with no limitations on punishment. Only general courts martial may impose the death penalty or separation from service.
- Special, a trial with a panel of three senior officers, including the judge. There are sentencing limitations, such as a maximum of six months confinement, and some crimes are excluded from trial by special court martial.
- Summary, a lesser trial with no panel, counsel or judges. It's more of a hearing in front of a single officer (usually the convening authority) who plays all the roles. The accused must be enlisted. There are much more sentencing limitations, such as a maximum of one month confinement.
In all cases, the judge determines severity of sentence, whereas the panel is only concerned with a verdict. The accused may request a general court martial.
The Colonial Code of Military Justice entrusts officers to maintain the integrity of the code by affording them the authority to make arrests. However, it is considered in poor taste for (1) a junior officer to perform an arrest, (2) any officer to arrest a service member not under his or her command, and (3) any officer to threaten arrest for minor (misdemeanor) offenses. These actions erode leadership and morale, and in the second case, fosters ill will between departments.
In practice, if an officer witnesses what he or she believes to be a crime, a complaint should be lodged with that individual's commanding officer. The exception is if the individual is behaving in such a manner so as to cause mortal danger to himself or herself or others. This means, practically, that only the individual's commanding officer may arrest the individual.
Enlisted Law Enforcement
Enlisted members of law enforcement (Military Police) have the power of detainment, an action officially distinct from but practically equal to an arrest. When an individual is detained, law enforcement have a limited time to locate the individual's commanding officer, who may then decide whether or not to arrest. Although detainment should not be used as a form of punishment, it is the de facto response for minor offenses. Frequently, commanding officers will simply allow the maximum time for detainment to expire and let that serve as a warning.
Other (non-MP) enlisted crew members do not have the power of detainment, and must contact the MPs to file a report if a crime is witnessed. They are permitted to subdue an individual who is behaving in such a manner so as to cause mortal danger to himself or herself or others.
Civilian Law under Martial Law
When there is implementation of martial law, the civilian legal system will be abolished and the military police have authority on all ships in the fleet. Civilians may be tried in military courts and are subject to military law. To use a RL parallel, the entire fleet can essentially be considered one big military base. Since civilians have no commanding officer to act as the convening authority, this role is filled by the officer in charge of security. In the Cerberus theme, this is the Marine S2.
Example: Military Police detain a civilian for disturbing the peace. The S2 reviews the MP's report and decides (usually in consultation with the JAG office) whether to bring formal charges or not. If formal charges are made, the S2 then decides whether to impose
Non-Judicial Punishment or Convene a Court Martial?
Non-judicial punishment for civilians is subject to the same restrictions as for military crew, but with some additional practical considerations. Obviously a formal letter of reprimand has little effect on a civilian, and you can't reduce a civilian in rank. However, the other punishments still apply, including confinement, restrictions (reduction in rations, restricted movement, etc.) or forced duty (akin to community service). As with military personnel, civilians can appeal NJP and request a full court martial (trial) instead.
Civilians who commit crimes on the civilian ships, as well as military personnel who commit crimes against civilians, may be tried and punished under the civilian legal system. This is made available in the potentiality that the Cerberus Fleet encounters any civilian ships in the future and takes them on as a protectorate. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
The government's chief law enforcement officer is the Fleet Prosecutor. He represents the government in criminal cases and is charged with defending the public peace. To aid in this task, he is joined by a group of clerks and associate prosecutors and together make up the Prosecutor's Office. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
Subordinate to the Fleet Prosecutor is the Chief of Police. He is responsible for the everyday preservation of law and order and supervises the Fleet's professional, armed police force. The force is functionally divided into stations, with each station (one per ship) commanded by a captain. The ranks of the police are: Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, Inspector, Sergeant, Officer (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
The accused has the right to defense counsel. There is no public defender's office. The accused is assigned an attorney, selected at random from the pool of all attorneys who are not part of the Prosecutor's Office. This attorney is paid for by the government. If the accused wishes to hire their own attorney, they may do so out of their own pocket. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
Judges are appointed by a Fleet Council and preside over all trials. To assure impartiality, judges are appointed for long terms and may only be removed for egregious improprieties. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
In Colonial law, crimes are not committed against individuals but rather against the public peace. Offenders are brought to trial by the Prosecutor's Office, in the name of the government, and not by the offended party. For example: The Prosecutor's Office will be the one pressing charges for assault, not the person who was assaulted. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
At the present time, civil suits (i.e. one person suing another for damages) are not handled by the justice system, only criminal charges. Civil matters may be brought before the Ship Captain or the Fleet Council. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
A police officer must get a warrant (signed by a judge) to search private property or arrest someone. The only exceptions are if there is immediate danger (for example: a scream heard from within a residence) or if the officer directly witnesses a crime being committed. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
Arraignment and Bail
Once arrested, the accused is arraigned in front of a judge within 48 hours. At the arraignment, the accused enters a plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest (same punishment as pleading guilty but technically you aren't convicted of the crime). Normally people are released while awaiting trial, so there is really no bail. The prosecutors, however, can argue at the arraignment that the accused is a danger to the Fleet and should be kept until trial. The judge has the final say. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
If the defendant pleads not guilty, the matter goes to trial, usually after a few weeks to give both sides time to prepare their cases. Criminal court is an adversarial process in which the prosecutor and defense counsel argue their case in front of a neutral judge. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The government must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the accused committed the crime. Because of the Fleet's special circumstances, a trial by jury is not recognized. A single judge hears the case and decides the verdict and the punishment. (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System)
With resources limited as they are, having prisoners languish in cells without contributing back to society is problematic. The death penalty is also frowned upon, given the already dismal number of human beings left in the Fleet. Forced labor, fines, limited confinement (i.e., being let out only to work), loss of privileges (like improved housing) and other creative punishments are all possible punishments.
A verdict may be appealed once. A court of appeals convenes as a committee of three judges that hear matters of law and not of fact. For example, a verdict may be overturned if it is found that the prosecutor mislabeled evidence.
Jurisdiction (Not Applicable at this time - No Civilian Legal System. MP's retain jurisdiction over civilian ships at this time)
MPs have jurisdiction over military personnel, regardless of where they are. That means they can go over to arrest an AWOL pilot, for example, or a wayward engineer that started a fight in somewhere. If the military person committed a crime against a civilian on civilian ground, there's joint jurisdiction and usually the courts will cede jurisdiction to one side or the other.