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What is Dereliction of Duty?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dereliction of duty widely refers to failure, through negligence or obstinacy, to perform a legal or moral duty to a reasonable expectation. In actuality, it is a specific offense under military law. Under the various regulations of military law, avoidance of a duty or failure to follow an order from a superior can result in this charge. The term has also been included in the title of two books centered around issues facing former Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.

Though dereliction of duty refers to a specific military offense, the same term is used to describe an occurrence of an elected official failing to perform his or her elected duty. The result of such dereliction on the part of an elected official isn’t the same as the military consequence. Under military law, a person convicted of dereliction of duty can be given a dishonorable or bad behavior discharge from his or her branch of service, and may forfeit pay or be sentenced to six months confinement. Conversely, an elected official accused of it may not be reelected or may be impeached.

The 2003 book, Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Endangered America's Long-Term National Security, authored by Robert Patterson, discusses how President Clinton neglected to lead the country with responsibility and honor in the opinion of Colonel Patterson, who served as a military aide to President Clinton. The similarly titled Dereliction of Duty : Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, authored by H.R. McMaster and published in 1998, discusses the political roles of Washington before and during the Vietnam War.

Dereliction is a form of the word derelict, derived from the Latin word derelictus, and is synonymous with "negligent," "neglectful," "abandoned" and "deserted." Derelict is also used in slang to refer to a vagrant person or a person who refuses to take responsibility for his or her own actions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon995031 — On Mar 25, 2016

Can the Senate Majority Leader be accused of Dereliction of Duty when he does not schedule hearings for the nominated Judge for the Supreme Court, and his excuse being that the NRA does not want this Judge to be appointed?

By anon924582 — On Jan 05, 2014

The Florida Department of Agriculture failed to enforce my farm rights by allowing a county to stop farm development then declares me of mfg for resale on my aquafarm, yet cannot provide evidence this to conceal their inaction. Would this be dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice?

By anon310445 — On Dec 22, 2012

The electors last Monday took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and then all but three failed to request evidence pertaining to the qualifications of the candidates.

About 200 of them had been notified, by certified mail, of the "irregularities" in Mr. Obama's birth, Social Security and draft registration documents. Those irregularities have been attested to in a sworn affidavit from the only high ranking law enforcement official to have had them analyzed fully.

Federalist Paper 68 outlines broad responsibilities for the Electors to investigate each candidate under consideration so that no unqualified person will skirt the system and usurp the Office of President. That no such action was taken, especially in view of the major controversy that Mr. Obama is cloaked in, is inexcusable.

Call it dereliction of duty or call it treason. Either way, we the people have a grievance and a cause of action against them. The question is, how is any such grievance expressed and perfected in a court of law? If anyone knows or has a precedent for pursuing such an action, please advise.

By pollick — On May 14, 2012

The term *dereliction of duty* is just vague enough to apply to any number of failings by public officials. What you should keep in mind is that people in authority are capable of dropping the ball or falling asleep at the wheel occasionally. We're all human and we're all have the potential to make mistakes, even critical or life-endangering ones.

Dereliction of duty is more of a deliberate act on the part of someone who should have performed better under the circumstances.

There is a difference between obligation and duty. The commercial boat's captain may have an obligation to make sure his passengers are safe, but his official duties don't necessarily include providing medical care. There may be other crew members assigned to handle those kinds of emergencies. Dereliction of duty can only be charged if the accused person actually understood his or her responsibilities and made a conscious decision not to meet them.

By anon242191 — On Jan 22, 2012

Can the police be guilty of dereliction of duty?

By anon154603 — On Feb 21, 2011

Can the members of the Wisconsin State Senate be held in dereliction of duty for failing to perform his or her elected duty by fleeing the state thereby blocking any action(s) in the Legislature? Dereliction is a form of the word derelictus, derived from the Latin word derelicts, and is synonymous with "negligent," "neglectful," "abandoned" and "deserted."

By anon153461 — On Feb 17, 2011

Can a commercial fishing vessel captain be charged with dereliction of duty if he fail to aid an injured fisherman on his boat? Thank you.

By anon142524 — On Jan 13, 2011

Can a county sheriff be guilty of dereliction of duty?

By ranajean — On Aug 25, 2010

Can an attorney be sued for dereliction of duty, ineffective assistance of counsel, case fixing and abandonment of a case?

By ranajean — On Jan 14, 2009

Can an Attorney be guilty of Dereliction of Duty? Also, of ineffective assistance of counsel?

By daniellejudi — On Aug 23, 2008

if high ranking leadership use their power by letting male soldiers get away with sexual assault by giving them an article 15 and putting all records in a restricted fiche which can only be seen by a high ranking official, is that a form of dereliction of duty? i know of 4+ cases where this has happened. if it is not a form of dereliction of duty, what is this type of taking advantage of rank called?

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