U.S. Military FAQ -- What Is an Article 15?

NJP - Non-Judicial Punishment

Manual for Courts-Martial (2008)
There are three different types of courts martial; general, summary and special. In a general court martial, the maximum punishment for a guilty verdict is higher than that of a summary or special trial. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Whitney Lambert). gettys

The military has its own laws and regulations. All of which can be found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  When a service members breaks the rules serious enough to require a legal hearing, the service member can request a Court Martial and be tried by a jury consisting of military officers, warrant officers, or one third enlisted members depending upon the the rank of the accused.  Lesser offenses will typically be heard by the accused chain of command.

A frequently asked question by recruits seeking to join the military is, "What Is an Article 15?"

Answer:  If a military member gets into trouble for a minor offense and it does not require a judicial hearing, Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) allows for the commanding officer to decide the innocence or guilt and administer the punishment to the offender if necessary.  Also known as Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP), the 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.  

In the Navy, the Article 15 hearing is called Captain's Mast (or Admiral's Mast) depending upon the rank of the member's commanding officer.  In the Marine Corps, it is called "Office Hours".  In the Army and Air Force it is referred as simply an Article 15 hearing.

If someone commits a punitive offense an Article 15 proceeding is conducted.  The offender can request a Court Martial if he/she feels that it is worth the risk of a higher punishment.  The NJP / Article 15 hearing is more of a legal proceeding than a trial that involves the chain of command with references speaking either for or against the accused.

The commander will hear the Article 15 proceeding if he/she feels the offense is too minor to warrant a full-blown court-martial.

It's best to think of it as a misdemeanor court, vs. a felony court (which would be more indicative of a court-martial).  Below are the details of the Article 15 process:

Offenses Punishable Under Article 15

To initiate Article 15 action, a commander must have reason to believe that a member of his/her command committed an offense under the UCMJ.  Article 15 gives a commanding officer power to punish individuals for minor offenses. The term minor offense" has been the cause of some concern in the administration of NJP. The Manual for Courts Martial (MCM) indicate that the term "minor offense" means misconduct normally not more serious than that usually handled at summary court-martial (where the maximum punishment is thirty days' confinement).  What to expect with your NJP.

Part 1 - Nature of offense. The Manual for Courts-Martial indicates that, in determining whether an offense is minor, the "nature of the offense" should be considered.

In military criminal law, there are two basic types of misconduct-disciplinary:  Infractions and Crimes. Disciplinary infractions are breaches of standards governing the routine functioning of society. 

Circumstances. The circumstances surrounding the commission of a disciplinary infraction are important to the determination of whether such an infraction is minor.  When dealing with disciplinary infractions, the commander must be free to consider the impact of circumstances around the case.

The commander's discretion in disposing of disciplinary infractions is much greater than his latitude in dealing with crimes.

Off-base offensesCommanding officers and officers in charge may dispose of minor disciplinary infractions (which occur on or off-base) at NJP. Unless the off-base offense is one previously adjudicated by civilian authorities, there is no limit on the authority of military authorities to resolve such offenses at NJP.

Part 2 - Right of the Accused to Demand Trial by Court-Martial

Except in the case of a person attached to or embarked in a vessel, an accused may demand trial by court-martial in lieu of NJP. The key time factor in determining whether or not a person has the right to demand trial is the time of the imposition of the NJP and not the time of the commission of the offense.

Prehearing

Nonjudicial 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 cause an inquiry to be made to determine the truth of the matter.

If, after the preliminary inquiry, the commanding officer determines that disposition by NJP is appropriate, the commanding officer must cause the accused to be given certain advice. The commanding officer need not give the advice personally, but may assign this responsibility to the legal officer or another appropriate person. The following advice must be given: 

The accused must be informed that the commanding officer is considering the imposition of NJP for the offense(s) - Contemplated action.   Suspected offense.   Government evidence.  Right to refuse NJP.  Right to confer with independent counsel.

Part 3 --Punishment Limits

The maximum punishment in any Article 15, UCMJ, case is limited by:

The grade / status of the imposing officer.

The status / rank of the accused.

The nature of the command (ship or shore).

Maximum Limits -- Specific

Officer accused. If punishment is imposed by officers in the following grades, the limits are as indicated below.

The following is a list of NJP punishments:

Admonition and reprimand.

Arrest in quarters. (officers)

Restriction.

Forfeiture. A forfeiture of salary applies to basic pay and to sea or foreign duty pay only.

Extra duties.

Reduction in grade.

Correctional custody.

Confinement on bread and water or diminished rations.

Part 4 –Appeals

If punishment is imposed at NJP, the commanding officer is required to ensure that the accused is advised of his right to appeal. A person punished under article 15 may appeal the imposition of such punishment through proper channels to the appropriate appeal authority.

There are only two grounds for appeal: the punishment was unjust or the punishment was disproportionate to the offense committed.

Upon completion of action by the reviewing authority, the service member shall be promptly notified of the result.

Part 5 -- Clemancy and Corrective Actions

Article 15 Made Popular

In military pop culture, Article 15 Clothing is a Veteran-Operated "Freedom Lifestyle Company" made popular by their Youtube.com Channel and full feature movie Range 15 (2016) featuring many Vets and Wounded Warriors.  It is expected to be a cult-classic within the zombie apocalypse and military communities.  Their videos are filled with unapologetic military humor with a primary goal of finding humor in many of the things that drive military members crazy.  However, they never fail to honor all branches of military service members, wounder warriors, and those killed in the line of duty.

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