UCMJ Article 15
Military commanders may impose nonjudicial punishment to handle certain violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). These minor violations are typically dealt with through administrative means rather than judicial ones, but they can still negatively impact one’s military career. If you are a military member facing a nonjudicial punishment, Aaron Meyer Law has the experience to explain your options and assist in your defense.
What Does Article 15 Mean?
The authorizing statute from which nonjudicial punishment draws its name is Article 15, UCMJ. Some refer to this statute as “Captain’s Mast” or “NJP,” but all these names refer to the same action. When a commander “offers” Article 15 to a military member, they inform the individual that they are accused of committing an offense or offenses under the UCMJ.
This offer from the commander allows the military member to choose whether to accept the Article 15 nonjudicial punishment. If the individual decides to refuse the offer, they are opting for a trial by court-martial. They have the right to consult legal counsel before they make this decision in most circumstances.
What If You Accept Article 15?
When a military member chooses to accept nonjudicial punishment, they forfeit their right to a court-martial trial, but they are not admitting guilt. Instead, accepting Article 15 allows the commander to decide whether the individual is guilty of the alleged offenses. By doing so, the individual grants the commander the right to act as judge and jury in the case. The commander will then listen to the individual’s side and review any evidence or witnesses they present on their behalf.
The military member facing nonjudicial punishment can speak on why they are not guilty, why they should not be punished, or why they should receive a light punishment. They also have the right to remain silent on the matter or to have someone act as a spokesperson on their behalf. The right to have a military attorney present is service-dependent.
The individual facing punishment may have witnesses testify on their behalf. These may be character witnesses who testify to the individual’s good military standing, that they are unlikely to have committed the offenses, or that they are able to be rehabilitated if they did. Another type of witness is a “fact” or defense witness. These individuals offer evidence or testify as to why the military member is not guilty. There are various ways that evidence can be presented to the commander, including witnesses and the presentation of documents and written statements.
Once the military member has presented all the evidence, the commander decides whether they committed the offenses. If the individual is found not guilty, the commander destroys the Article 15. However, if they determine that the military member committed the offenses, they also decide the punishment that will be imposed. This punishment is then written on the Article 15 form, and the individual is notified of the punishment.
If the commander finds the individual guilty, they may offer evidence to affect what punishment is appropriate. This evidence is known as “matters in extenuation,” which explain the circumstances around the offense, and “matters in mitigation.” The latter seeks to make the punishment lighter due to the military member’s reputation, acts of bravery, service record, personal situation, and other factors.
What Are the Maximum Punishments Under Article 15?
Punishments given by a lieutenant or captain (0-3) are known as company grade and may include:
- Forfeiture of seven days basic pay
- Fourteen days of extra duty
- Restriction for 14 days
- Reduction in grade by one grade for E-4 or below, no reduction for E-5 or above
Punishments imposed by a major/lieutenant commander or higher are known as field grade and may include:
- Reduction in grade for E-4 or below to E-1, or one pay grade reduction for E-5 and E-6 if the commander has such authority. E-7 and higher grade reductions are service-dependent.
- Forfeiture of half of basic pay for two months
- Forty-five days of extra duty
- Restriction for 60 days, or 45 days if combined with extra duty
Is Nonjudicial Punishment Always Enforced?
There are situations in which a commander may choose to suspend an Article 15 punishment or a portion thereof. In these circumstances, the imposing officer decides on an appropriate punishment for the military member’s offenses but does not impose it. Instead, the commander may assign a set time to the individual to prove that they will not engage in further misconduct. If the military member can fulfill this requirement, their sentence will be dismissed. If any misconduct occurs during this period, suspension of the punishment will be lifted immediately, and the whole punishment will be imposed.
Important Article 15 Facts
- An Article 15 decision may be appealed to a higher commanding officer within five days after the commander has announced the punishment. Restriction and extra duty punishments typically begin the day they are imposed, while forfeitures and rank reductions are often postponed pending the appeal.
- After Article 15 action is imposed, several service-specific follow-on administrative actions can or will be started. This may include Performance/Fitness Report annotation, Officer Selection Record Filing, Performance/Restricted OMPF Section Filing, and the establishment of an Unfavorable Information File, among other things.
- Military members who refuse the offer for Article 15 action must wait for the chain of command to decide whether the case will go to court-martial or be dropped. Before making this decision, the individual should always seek the counsel of a military attorney who can advise them on the dangers and benefits of their decision.
- Court-martial trials are typically referred to as a general court-martial, a special court-martial, or a summary court-martial. This is important to note, as the severity of the punishment depends on the level of the court. Some may result in federal convictions that preclude the individual from certain employment opportunities and benefits.
Choose the Team That You Can Trust
If you are faced with nonjudicial punishment through Article 15 action and need to decide whether to accept the punishment, it is vital to have an experienced attorney on your side. At Aaron Meyer Law, we can advise you on the risks and benefits of every option and help you make the decision that will have the most negligible negative impact on your current situation and your future. Reach out to us today to see how we can help.