What Are the Criteria for AWOL?

If you serve in any branch of the United States military, it is imperative that you take your duties seriously and report for formation, exercises, and training whenever it is required of you. If you are charged with going absent without leave (AWOL), you could face severe penalties, including loss of your military career, but what are the criteria for AWOL?

An experienced AWOL lawyer is the ideal resource to consult if you have been charged with going AWOL in any branch of military service. They can assess the details of your situation and help determine whether you have any viable defenses available to you. Generally, AWOL is defined as failure to report for duty for a period of at least 24 hours.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) includes Articles outlining the laws that pertain to US service members and their expectations as members of the military. UCMJ Article 86 pertains to AWOL, including the definitions for this offense and the possible penalties a service member could face if they are convicted of going AWOL.

In most cases, a military prosecutor proves that a service member has gone AWOL if the service member:

  • Fails to report to their appointed duty at the correct time for at least 24 hours.
  • The service member left their place of duty without permission from their commanding officer.
  • Or the service member has been absent from their place of duty without providing notice.

The military prosecutor may also attempt to prove that the accused went AWOL for a specific purpose, such as avoiding maneuvers. If any such intent can be proven, the accused faces much harsher penalties than they would for a basic AWOL charge.

Defending Against AWOL

While some intentional cases of being AWOL do occur, it is also possible for a service member to be charged with AWOL due to forces beyond their control. While rare, it is possible for a service member to be forced to leave their place of duty or physically prevented from returning. It is also possible for them to return late from previously allowed leave due to forces outside of their control, such as delayed transportation or a medical emergency.

If a service member has technically gone AWOL but voluntarily turns themselves in before being apprehended by military police, it is possible that they could avoid the harshest possible sentences that might otherwise be assigned to them. If you were AWOL due to forces beyond your control, made a proven effort to contact your commanding officer or unit, and turned yourself in as quickly as possible, these factors will all work in your favor.

An experienced AWOL lawyer is the ideal resource to consult if you are technically AWOL, a deserter, or unauthorized absence status. Your defense attorney will know your most viable options for minimizing the penalties you could face or proving the truth of the situation if you have been wrongfully deemed AWOL.

Aaron Meyer Law offers comprehensive defense counsel to members of the United States military in every branch of service. There are many technical defenses to AWOL that the average service member may not realize, and they may be able to defeat an AWOL charge if they have the right defense attorney representing their case. Our firm is ready to help build a defense against an AWOL charge in any branch of military service.


Q: What Constitutes Being AWOL?

A: The criteria for a US service member to be considered AWOL include failure to report for duty, leaving a duty of post, or absence from their unit for a period of at least 24 hours up to 30 days. It is important to note the distinction between AWOL and desertion, as the latter indicates that the service member has no intention of returning. Penalties for AWOL can include forfeiture of pay and confinement.

Q: How Are AWOL Penalties Determined?

A: AWOL penalties are determined based on the length of time the service member was AWOL. The maximum punishment for being AWOL for up to three days is forfeiture of two-thirds of a month’s pay and up to a month of confinement. For going AWOL between three and 30 days, the accused faces forfeiture of two-thirds of their monthly pay for six months and up to six months of confinement.

Q: What Are the Penalties for AWOL Over 30 Days?

A: Penalties for being AWOL over 30 days can include up to one year of confinement along with forfeiture of all pay and allowances followed by dishonorable discharge. Penalties will increase if the accused has been AWOL for more than 30 days and their absence is terminated by apprehension by military police. Confinement can increase to 18 months, along with forfeiture of pay and allowances and dishonorable discharge.

Q: How Can I Defend Against an AWOL Charge?

A: Defending against an AWOL charge is very difficult. A service member who has a good reason to be away from their unit or classified as AWOL should have made some effort to contact their commanding officer or another member of their unit to notify them of the situation. If no such effort was made, it would be extremely difficult to prove that the service member was AWOL unintentionally.

Q: Should I Hire a Military Defense Attorney if I’m Charged With Going AWOL?

A: If you are charged with being AWOL, you should hire a military defense attorney if you want to reach the most positive possible outcome to your case. You may have defenses available to you that you may not recognize on your own, and other factors that you may have overlooked could be brought to light by your attorney. An experienced military criminal defense lawyer may also help their client argue for leniency in sentencing if possible.

Aaron Meyer Law has cultivated a strong reputation as a leading choice for military criminal defense. Aaron Meyer and his team can respond quickly to your request for defense counsel and carefully examine the details of your situation. We develop individualized defense strategies for every US service member we represent, and we can help you make clearer sense of your AWOL charge. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our team.

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