Understanding Article 15 of the UCMJ Articles

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8 Need to Know Legal Military Facts

8 Need to Know Legal Military Facts

Facing legal issues related to your military service? Get advice from a military lawyer who understands your rights and the military justice system.

When a member of the military is suspected of committing a minor violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Command is authorized to move forward with a non-judicial punishment procedure by issuing an Article 15. While the lawyers at Military Trial Defenders are well-versed in all of the UCMJ articles, we spend a lot of our time answering questions about Article 15. Accordingly, we have compiled an Article 15 “crash course” to help explain the process.

Article 15 of the UCMJ

The 15th of the UCMJ articles offers commanders the jurisdiction to choose how to proceed in the case of military misconduct. If a member of the military commits a minor infraction, the commander is permitted to resolve the issue without resorting to court-martial procedures. When a commander imposes a non-judicial punishment on military personnel, the accused have the option to respond in one of two ways. They can either accept the Article 15, opting out of the traditional judicial process, or they can refuse it by demanding a court-martial. Importantly, accepting an Article 15 is not an admittance of guilt. If a military member accepts an Article 15, the commander must give opportunity for the accused to express their side of the case. In a non-judicial proceeding, the commander serves as both the judge and the jury to determine if further discipline needs to occur.

Possible Article 15 Punishments

Receiving administrative punishment via an Article 15 hearing does not constitute a criminal conviction. It does, however, often go on the service record of the offender. A variety of punishments can stem from an Article 15 hearing. Possible punishments include loss of pay, reduction in rank, correctional custody, extra duties, and increased restrictions. The commanding officer also has the judiciary right to suspend a punishment by offering a type of probation. This probation is basically a period in which the offender is under strict review.

What Qualifies as “Minor Disciplinary Infractions” for Article 15?

Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows commanders to impose nonjudicial punishment for “minor disciplinary infractions.” This is a broad category, but generally covers offenses that are more serious than minor breaches of discipline but still relatively low-level. Some examples include:
  • Absence without leave for less than 30 days
  • Willful disobedience of orders
  • Disrespect toward superior officers
  • Dereliction of duty
  • Assault without intent to cause grievous bodily harm
  • Adultery
  • Drunk and disorderly conduct
  • Unauthorized possession of a weapon on base
More serious crimes like drug distribution, sexual assault, AWOLs over 30 days, etc. would typically be handled through court-martial rather than Article 15 action. The underlying principle is that Article 15 covers violations of good order and discipline that don’t rise to the level of major criminal misconduct.

Article 15 Statistics and Career Impact

According to data from the Military Justice Field Support Center, there were over 63,000 Article 15 punishments imposed across all branches in 2018 alone. The Army and Marine Corps tended to use this authority most frequently. While a single Article 15 is often not a career-ender for enlisted members, it can potentially impact promotions, assignments, and retention decisions. For officers, even one Article 15 can be a major career obstacle and potentially lead to administrative separation. Multiple Article 15s or more serious offenses addressed through NJP can cast significant doubt on a service member’s ability to continue to serve. This makes it very difficult to continue serving, especially in a leadership role.

How to Respond to an Article 15

If you are facing potential nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, it’s crucial to respond appropriately from the outset. Here are some steps to consider:
  • Consult a military defense lawyer: Even though not a court-martial, an Article 15 carries potential career implications. A lawyer can advise you on rights and how to respond.
  • Review evidence and charges carefully: Take notes and ensure you understand the full scope of the allegations.
  • Consider whether to demand trial by court-martial: This transfers the matter to a higher level of due process, but also increases potential punishments if convicted.
  • If accepting Article 15, negotiate the best terms possible with your commander regarding punishment.
  • You have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself further. Use this right strategically.
  • If given punishment under Article 15, you can appeal to the next higher authority.
The key is not to take an Article 15 lightly, or just accept the initial terms if you believe them excessive or unfounded.

Long-Term Consequences of an Article 15

While considered “minor discipline,” an Article 15 can have major impacts on a military career, especially if the conduct was serious enough. Potential consequences include:
  • Indelible record in permanent service record
  • Loss of security clearance
  • Prevented from receiving service medals/awards
  • Denial of reenlistment or extension of enlistment
  • Passed over for promotion
  • Administrative demotion/reduction in rank
  • Loss of privileged duties/assignments
  • Increased scrutiny/suspicion from leadership
  • Difficulty transitioning to civilian career due to misconduct record
In some cases, repeated Article 15 offenses are used as evidence of a “pattern of misconduct” that can ultimately lead to discharge or punitive dismissal from the military. So these actions should never be taken lightly.

Tips to Avoid Situations Leading to an Article 15

The best way to handle an Article 15 is to avoid the undisciplined conduct that could precipitate one in the first place. Some tips include:
  • Stay acutely aware of all orders/regulations and follow them diligently
  • Address any personal issues (anger management, substance abuse, financial troubles, etc.) through military resources before they become disciplinary problems
  • Choose your associates wisely and avoid fraternizing with those who may encourage misconduct
  • If struggling with a personal or professional situation, communicate with your chain of command transparently before issues escalate
  • When granted privileges like passes or leave, be accountable and responsible to maintain that trust
  • Stay physically and mentally disciplined – avoid losing control through overindulgence in alcohol/drugs
  • Study military values and strive to consistently demonstrate them
Ultimately, good order and discipline are crucial to an effective military environment. Prioritizing those principles through sound judgment and pragmatism is the best way to steer clear of disciplinary issues.
Whether military personnel choose to refuse or accept an Article 15, a military lawyer is instrumental in cases of minor misconduct. If the service member chooses to move forward with a court-martial, he/she has the right to be represented by an attorney. Service members do not have the option to be represented by an attorney if they accept an Article 15. But they do have the right to consult with an attorney. A military attorney can help the service member compile records, gather good character witnesses, and assemble a list of military performance achievements that will help his/her case.

An Military Attorney with Experience on the UCMJ Articles Can Help

If you have been issued an Article 15 and are unsure of how to proceed, start by speaking with a military attorney. A crash course on Article 15 may be an important part of the research process. But it’s not a substitute for a detailed conversation with an experienced military attorney. The lawyers at Military Trial Defenders understand the intricacies of the UCMJ articles, court-martial trials, and Article 15 cases. Contact the attorneys at Military Trial Defenders for counsel from skilled military attorneys.



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