Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows for a commanding officer to decide the innocence or guilt and administer the punishment to an offender if necessary when a military member gets into trouble for a minor offense that does not require a judicial hearing.
Also known as Non-Judicial Punishment, an Article 15 hearing allows for the immediate chain of command of the UCMJ offender to handle in-house the lesser offenses that do not require a trial or break other local or federal regulations.
What Is an Article 15?
The military has its own laws and regulations, all of which can be found in the UCMJ. Not every violation of the rules is serious enough to require a legal hearing, so Article 15 provides an alternative to a court-martial, which is a trial with a jury consisting of military officers, warrant officers, or enlisted members depending upon the rank of the accused.
The Army and Air Force typically use the term "Article 15 hearing," but the Marines call them "Office Hours," and the Navy refers to them as "Captain's Mast" or "Admiral's Mast," depending on the rank of the member's commanding officer.
An Article 15 hearing is more of a legal proceeding than a trial, and it involves the chain of command with references speaking either for or against the accused. For comparison, an Article 15 hearing is more similar to a misdemeanor court as opposed to a felony court, which would be more comparable to a court-martial.
How an Article 15 Works
To initiate Article 15 action, a commander must have reason to believe that a member of their command has committed an offense under the UCMJ. A minor offense is defined as misconduct normally not more serious than that usually handled at a summary court-martial and where the maximum punishment is 30 days' confinement.
Non-judicial punishment results from an investigation into unlawful conduct and a subsequent hearing to determine whether and to what extent an accused should be punished. Generally, when a complaint is filed with the commanding officer of an accused (or if that commander receives a report of investigation from a military law enforcement source), that commander is obligated to make an inquiry to determine the truth of the matter.
A military member facing an Article 15 hearing has the right to request a full court-martial. However, this carries the risk of more severe penalties if found guilty.
If, after the preliminary inquiry, the commanding officer determines that disposition by NJP is appropriate, the commanding officer must inform the accused that NJP is being considered for the offense, along with the contemplated action, the suspected offense, government evidence, right to refuse NJP, and the right to confer with independent counsel.
Except in the case of a person attached to or embarked in a vessel, an accused may demand a trial by court-martial in lieu of an Article 15.
Types of Article 15 Punishments
The commanding officer has several options for determining punishment, but none of them may be severe. Limits to punishments can vary based on the rank of the commanding officer and the rank of the accused.
Restrictions to correctional custody, base, or other specified limits typically may last no longer than 30 days, and rank may be reduced no more than one grade. Pay typically can be reduced by no more than half for two consecutive months.
Commanding officers also have the discretion to suspend punishments for up to one year. Effectively, this means the punishment is not carried out unless the accused fails to meet the terms of the suspended sentence.
Punishment also may include extra duties as long as they pose no danger and are not demeaning relative to the individual's rank.
A military member can appeal any punishment that results from an Article 15 hearing in writing to the next highest superior authority. Appeals should be submitted in writing within five days of the Article 15 ruling.
- An Article 15 hearing is less formal than a court-martial.
- A commanding officer reviews the case and administers the punishment, and no judge or jury is involved.
- The individual accused can request a full court-martial.
- Article 15 hearings typically involve less serious offenses.