Penalty for Desertion

Whilst eating lunch and perusing the local newspaper, I came upon the Police Beat. Recently, after investigating a domestic dispute between husband and wife, the police found another man hiding inside the house. They discovered a warrant was out for him for deserting the Marine Corps. The Corps, however, suffered a system error, could not officially confirm the warrant, and the man was let go.

Which got me wondering, what penalties are incurred for deserting the various branches of the U.S. armed forces? Is the penalty different for enlisted men and officers? Is there a penalty for signing up to join and then not showing up to ship for basic training? Enlighten me, Dopers.

Straight from the UCMJ:

My guess is, circumstance depending, a typical peacetime desertion would probably result in a dishonorable discharge… at worst, there’d be brig time involved.

I don’t think there is. I believe if you don’t show up, after voluntarily signing up, they let it slide. Kind of like the cooling off period mandated for major purchases in most places so that, if you change your mind the next day or realize you’ve been suckered, you don’t get screwed.

This is not a legal opinion, just based on having worked in the military police. I don’t ever recall anyone actually being court marshalled for desertion, this was peace time though (86-87).

The way it seemed to work was this. People who just up and left were usually declared Absent Without Leave (AWOL), or Unauthorized Absence (UA) by their unit, don’t know the difference between the two, I was just a grunt.

When they were caught and brought in, but before they talked to any lawyer, they were interviewed, in said interview they would declare whether they left “with the intention to return”, or “intending to never return”. As far as I know, every one of them chose the “intending to return” option, no fools they. As it turns out the charge of “desertion” hinges on intent, if they left “intending to never return”, that was desertion, otherwise it was UA.

These people usually stayed in the brig for a few days, but since they intended to return all along, they were put in a detention house, which is where I worked. Here they were put in regular details, with pay, but restricted to base, until their court marshall.

Thinking back I sort of remember the penalties being kind of all over the field. I think the maximum penalty for UA was 6 months detention (in the brig), bust in grade, and forfeit of salary. Some got 3 months, some got 6, some got time served. But I don’t recall anyone ever being allowed back in the military. Some got Bad Conduct discharges, some got Dishonorable, some got Admin discharges, (DH-bad, BCD-sor of bad, AD-not bad at all). I think it depended on their time in service, why they said they left, how long they stayed, how good a lawyer they got, and in what kind of mood the judge was.

Slightly different topic. In this base there was a huge sweep to catch people with drugs, many were busted. And nearly all of them got 2 years at trial. Except this one guy whose trial happened to take place on a day when the regular military judge was out and a civlian military-reserve judge was brought in. This judge apologized to the kid (these guys were all 18-19), for having to sentence him so harshly but this was the military blah, blah, blah, and gave him 6 months detention. The kid was almost literally walking on air on the way to the brig.

This kinda depends on how you sign up. The typical procedure is you go in, fill in the paper work, sign some papers, take some tests, take a physical and then sworn in. However at this point you’re usually only in what’s called “inactive reserve”. Sometime later you’re given orders to report in for activation and transfer to boot camp. At this point it is possible to change your mind, but I would think you’d have to do more than “not show up”. I don’t think at this point the services would be too hard up about going after you. You’d probably be given some sort of administrative discharge and let go.

However, before you leave for boot camp you are once again asked to fill a bunch of forms, sign another bunch of papers, and swear in again. Now you’re in “active service”, and if you try to take off you will be searched for and if caught prosecuted.

A friend of mine told me the story of his friend (w00t sketchiness) who was a technician on a Navy nuclear sub. He just got sick of it and left one day, taking with him some firearms, staying with friends and not using his name. A few months later, the police bumped into him and he returned willingly to the Navy. The whole thing souded fishy to me - someone trained in working with the Navy’s nuclear reactors is probably someone they wouldn’t be very casual about disappearing.

I can almost guarantee you he was returned to the Navy, and promptly cycled through the Navy’s legal system and spit out into the world again. We used to get all kinds, from people who like your friend’s friend “just got tired”, to others who had really tough family situations to attend to and were refused leave so they up and left. This kind of thing seemed to affect the sentences they got.

heh, I feel so guilty for actually using the sentence “A friend of mine told me the story of his friend…”

But the gist is that in peace time, there isn’t much other than getting the boot (and losing out on federal bonuses for past servicemen).

My father got booted out of the Navy for sneaking in with a plastic hip. They didn’t like that, but were amazed he got through boot camp and was actually posted before they noticed. :wink:

Right before you are shipped to boot camp, you sign a contract and then you are sworn in. The military has no jurisdiction over you before this happens. After you sign/swear they keep a close eye on you until you actually reach the military installation on which you will receive your basic training.