Like its name indicates, an NJP (also known as an Article 15 in the Army or Air Force, “captain’s mast” in the Navy or Coast Guard, or “office hours” in the Marine Corps) is a way for a commander to administer punishment for minor offenses that does not involve adjudicating the matter in court. It is a disciplinary process more severe than administrative corrective measures (such as a counseling entry), but less severe than a court-martial. An NJP is not a criminal conviction and does not create a criminal record, although the NJP will appear in the member’s service record.
The purpose of an NJP is to allow a commander to handle an issue promptly, to promote good order and discipline in the command, and also to promote positive behavior without the stigma of a court-martial.
Unless the accused is attached to or embarked in a vessel, he may refuse an NJP, and demand a trial by court-martial. In reality, one can never “demand” a court-martial, because it’s still the commander’s call whether to initiate one. But a servicemember can refuse the NJP, taking that option off the commander’s table.
The punishments available at an NJP depend primarily upon the rank of the individual imposing the NJP and, to a lesser extent, the rank of the accused. Generally speaking, a punishment at NJP is likely to include some forfeiture of pay and reduction in rank, and possibly restriction.
It is possible to appeal the result of an NJP, but the appeal is heard within the same chain of command that initiated the NJP, and the chances of success are generally low.
An accused has a right to assistance of counsel prior to making the decision to accept or refuse an NJP. This is an important legal requirement, and a smart decision to seek counsel. Normally, active duty defense counsel will provide designated hours for NJP counseling in their offices.