Article 91 UCMJ: Insubordinate Conduct

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) covers many offenses integral to maintaining lawful order in the military. Among the many articles included in this federal law is Article 91: Insubordinate Conduct Toward Warrant Officer, Noncommissioned Officer, or Petty Officer. What exactly is Article 91 UCMJ, and what is its relevance to service members? This article is a helpful guide to understanding Article 91 of the UCMJ.

statue of the lady of justice with scales and wooden gavel on the desk

What is Article 91 in the UCMJ?

Article 91 of the UCMJ applies to people accused of disrespecting a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer. In general, three instances would prompt an enlisted member to be reviewed under the purview of Article 91 and face court martial:

  • Assaulting or striking a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer
  • Willfully disobeying the lawful order issued by a noncommissioned officer, warrant officer, petty officer, or
  • treating a noncommissioned, petty, or warrant officer with disrespectful language or contempt.

Four elements should be met for an incident to be considered assault:

  • The accused party was an enlisted member or warrant officer
  • The accused party made an attempt to inflict bodily harm or struck the office involved in the incident
  • The action or attempt on the victim was done when both parties were conducting official duties
  • At the time of the incident, the accused party knew the victim was a warrant, noncommissioned, or petty officer.

To put things into perspective, assault or offering violence is similar to the civilian crimes of battery and assault. This also includes any threatening gestures or words, like drawing a weapon or holding one’s hand in a threatening manner.

The nature of the assault also matters in Article 91. Assault can be of three types: assault by attempt is an attempt to inflict bodily harm that’s beyond mere preparation; assault by offer is an intentional act that allows the victim to believe they will be subject to physical harm; and assault consummated by a battery means unlawfully and intentionally inflicting force or violence.

For a person to be considered guilty of willful disobedience, it should be established that the accused party disobeyed a particular lawful order from the petty, warrant, or noncommissioned officer on purpose. The accused party must have had the duty to obey that specific order.

In addition, the order involved in the incident should have been directed personally to the accused party. The accused party should have been made aware that the order was made by the petty, warrant, or noncommissioned officer who was willfully disobeyed. While the delivery method isn’t relevant, the order must have been understandable.

Of all the detailed requirements for willful disobedience, lawfulness is the most complicated and the most important one to determine. An order is considered ‘lawful’ when it’s not in conflict with the US Constitution or its laws, other military or admiralty laws, or international treaties binding on the country. Moreover, a lawful order doesn’t interfere with an enlisted member’s constitutional rights.

According to Article 91, contempt includes all rude and insulting conduct toward warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, or petty officers. Contempt also consists of attributing qualities like disputableness and worthlessness to the officer. Meanwhile, disrespect can be conveyed through acts or words that demonstrate rudeness, indifference, disdain, silent insolence, and impertinence towards the victim in the incident.

Three elements should be satisfied for an incident to be considered ‘contempt or disrespect:’

  • Doing or failing to perform particular acts or directing specific behavior at the officer, as accused
  • Using specific language that is considered disrespectful
  • Being disrespectful to the rank and state of the officer by engaging in the alleged behavior or performing the alleged actions

What is Insubordinate Conduct in the Military Context?

Insubordinate conduct or insubordination, for short, occurs when an enlisted service member purposely disobeys an authority figure in the Armed Forces. Following orders and the chain of command is integral to military operations, which is why the military punishes enlisted members who disobey their superiors.

An incident is considered insubordination regardless of whether the officer is from the same military branch or within that service member’s direct chain of command.

Maximum Punishment for Insubordinate Conduct

person hand in handcuffs at desk

The maximum punishment for violation of Article 91 depends on the nature of the insubordinate conduct. For incidents involving assaulting a warrant officer, petty officer, or noncommissioned officer, the most severe punishments include dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. The maximum confinement period for assault cases is five years.

For cases involving willfully disobeying the lawful order of a noncommissioned officer, petty officer, or warrant officer, the maximum punishment an enlisted member can receive includes dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture, and a two-year jail term. The maximum sentence for contempt and disrespect is a bad-conduct discharge, total forfeiture, and 9-month confinement.

It should be highlighted the gravity of the penalties depends on the rank of the officer involved in the incident. The higher the rank of the person concerned, the worse punishments the accused party would receive.

Defending Against Insubordinate Conduct Cases

Insubordination is considered a serious crime in the Armed Forces. The consequences can be severe and even life-changing for the accused party. Here are common defenses used when facing charges of insubordination:

  • The accused party was not aware that the other party was a warrant officer, petty officer, or noncommissioned officer;
  • The accused party was acting to discharge another lawful duty;
  • The superior officer involved in the case conducted in a way that made the superior officer lose the right to be respected.


Insubordinate conduct toward a warrant officer, petty officer, or noncommissioned officer can have long-term consequences that can alter the life of the accused party. That’s why service members should have a good understanding of Article 91 of the UCMJ. To learn more about life in the military, explore the SCRACVS website further.


What is the maximum punishment for Article 91?

The worst punishment that an enlisted member can receive for Article 91 includes a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowance, and five years of confinement. The severity of the punishment depends on the rank of the officer involved.

What is the difference between Article 90 and Article 91?

Article 90 covers insubordinate conduct towards an enlisted member’s superior officer. Article 91 extends the UCMJ’s coverage to include warrant officers, petty officers, and noncommissioned officers.

What counts as insubordinate conduct in the armed forces?

Insubordination occurs when an enlisted service member purposely disobeys an authority figure in the Armed Forces. Article 91 stipulates that the incident involves a warrant officer, petty officer, or noncommissioned officer.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.