As a military servicemember, you are subject to very strict rules that apply to you on duty and off duty. While the same federal and state laws that apply to all civilians and service members, service members must also to abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Those accused of violating the UCMJ could face a variety of penalties. Prosecution in a court-martial is possible. In many cases, a service member accused of a UCMJ infraction can face be an Article 15 disciplinary hearing (or Non-Judicial Punishment) instead of a court martial.
An Article 15 (or Non-Judicial Punishment) allows commanders to make decisions about someone’s guilt and impose punishment without involving the Court-Martial process. Article 15 hearings are ordinarily only an option for minor accusations and the service member (with the exception of sailors aboard a vessel) has the right to decline the Article 15 and demand a Court-Martial instead. Considering the importance of this decision it is essential that you understand you rights during an Article 15 hearing and the consequences of Article 15 punishment.
The right to legal advice
If you are accused of a violation of the UCMJ and you are offered and Article 15 (or Non-Judicial Punishment), you have a right to request the advice of a lawyer before deciding to accept facing an Article 15. An attorney can review that allegations against you and advise you about the decision to accept or decline the Article 15. In the Army, and occasionally in the other services, an attorney may be permitted to serve as your spokesperson and help argue your case in front of the commander so long as this does not unreasonably delay the hearing.
It is important to understand that accepting an Article 15 does not necessarily mean you are admitting guilt. At an Article 15, you can present your case to commander and argue that you are not guilty of the allegation against you. In the Army the commander must be convinced of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You may also present evidence of extenuation and mitigation even if you are guilty of the allegation. An attorney can assist you in making this presentation and in many cases serve as your spokesperson before the commander. This is an informal process and not a trial, on the other hand, a commander should give you an opportunity for you to present your case – which often more effective with the assistance of a lawyer experienced in military law.
The right to request a full court-martial
Technically, an Article 15 hearing is less serious than court-martial proceedings. However, especially in a situation where a servicemember believes their commanding officer will not be impartial, asking for a thorough review instead of leaving your fate in the hands of one individual can sometime be a better option. On the other hand, punishment at an Article 15 is not a criminal conviction, so you need to be very careful when deciding whether to demand trial by Court-Martial. You should not turn down an Article 15 or refused Non-Judicial Punishment without first reviewing you case with an attorney experienced in military law.
The right to request an appeal
If the commander presiding decides that you are guilty and imposes a penalty, you may appeal to the next senior commander. On appeal your punishment cannot be increase. On the other hand, punishments begin immediately and will be administered while you appeal is pending.
The next commander in seniority has the authority to find you NOT Guilty or to reduce your sentence. You do not have the right to present your appeal in person, although some commanders will give you this opportunity. An attorney can assist you and drafting your appeal and presenting it to the next commander.
Even if an appeal is denied, there are procedure for removing an Article 15 from you record that is unjust and erroneous. An attorney experienced in military law can advise you about these provisions.
An Article 15 can drastically impact your military career. Know your rights. Seek the guidance of an attorney experienced in military law before making a decision regarding an Article 15. Whatever kind of disciplinary hearing you face get the right support from a lawyer facing the military justice system.