The military is an intentionally hierarchical structure, and maintaining an appropriate sense of discipline among the ranks is essential when it comes to having effective operations.
Article 15 proceedings, which are also called non-judicial punishment, are a unique facet of military discipline and law. It provides commanders with a tool to address minor offenses within their units without resorting to an actual court-martial.
However, an Article 15 proceeding should never be considered a “light” punishment. It’s a formal administrative action that can ultimately lead to extra duty assignments and extra restrictions on your freedoms (at best) to fines and a reduction in rank. If you are affected by this kind of action, it can also deeply damage your career prospects.
What happens if you are offered an Article 15?
If you are offered Article 15 proceedings, you will be given the opportunity to read the charges against you and look at the supporting evidence. You will also be given time to consider your response and seek legal guidance.
Your only two responses, at this point, will be to accept or refuse the Article 15 proceedings. Acceptance is not an admission of culpability, but merely your consent to allow your commander to act as the judge and jury over the situation.
That means they will decide if you are guilty and set your punishment according to their discretion, although you will be given a chance to provide your commander with a response, including your own statement, information from witnesses and any documents that support your position. When carefully crafted, a response can be very influential over a commander’s decision.
If you refuse the Article 15 proceedings, that removes the issue from your commander’s control. It’s the same as asking for a trial by court-martial. This can be risky in that a conviction at a court-martial means that you may face even more severe punishment and have a criminal record that will follow you into civilian life. However, it can be the best option if you cannot trust your commander to be fair or are convinced that your innocence can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you’re offered an Article 15, seeking experienced legal assistance can help you decide what path to take and assist you with your defense according to the unique ins and outs of your circumstances.