About Article 15
Within the UCMJ is a provision for punishing misconduct through judicial proceedings like a court-martial. The UCMJ also gives commanders the authority to impose nonjudicial punishment, described in the UCMJ under Article 15. Article 15 provides commanders an essential tool in maintaining discipline. The Article allows commanders to impose punishment for relatively minor infractions. Only commanders may impose punishment under Article 15. A commander is any warrant officer or commissioned officer that is in command of a unit and has been given authority under AR 600-20, either orally or in writing, to administer nonjudical punishment.
When reviewing the circumstances surrounding an incident of misconduct, the commander will ensure that prior to processing an Article 15, an actual offense under the UCMJ was committed. He ensures the alleged offense violated the UCMJ, Army Regulations, Army Policy, a lawful order, local laws or some other rule the soldier had a duty to obey.
The soldier is informed that the commander has started nonjudicial punishment (Article 15) procedures against him. Once the commander has conducted the hearing and if he decides that the accused is (a) guilty and (b) needs to be punished, he will prescribe punishment that fits the offense(s). Soldiers may present evidence at Article 15 hearings. Evidence would be something that shows a soldier is not guilty of the alleged offense(s). A soldier may also present matters in extenuation and mitigation, which are reasons why he should be punished less or not at all.
The level of proof is the same at both an Article 15 hearing and a court-martial; the imposing commander must be convinced of the accused soldier's guilt by the evidence presented before the soldier can be found guilty. Whatever the outcome of the hearing, an Article 15 is not considered a conviction and will not appear in your civilian record. On the other hand, if you demand a trial by court-martial and are convicted, this would be a federal conviction that would stay with you even after you leave the Army. No lawyers are involved in the Article 15 hearing however, the soldier has the right to speak with an attorney prior to accepting proceedings under Article 15. There is also no prosecutor at an Article 15 hearing. At a courtmartial, a military lawyer may represent the accused at no cost to the soldier, and there would also be a prosecutor present.
If a soldier thinks he has been punished excessively, or evidence was not properly considered, he may appeal to the next level of command within five days. The soldier is not entitled to a personal appearance in front of the appeal authority (although he may request one) so he should include written statements as to why the appeal should be granted. If the soldier doesn't submit these statements, the appeal authority may never get his side of what happened. The appeal authority can take any action to lessen the punishment but may NOT INCREASE the punishment given by the original commander.
Article 15s come in different levels: Summarized, Company Grade and Field Grade. They differ in two main respects: the severity of the punishment and in how the record of it can affect a soldier's future in the Army.
Maximum Punishments In Article 15
Article 15s can affect a soldier's future. Summarized Article 15s are filed in the local files (at the installation Staff Judge Advocate office) for a period of two years or until the transfer of the soldier, whichever occurs first. Company and Field Grade Article 15s can be filed in the soldier's official military personnel file (OMPF). The commander in each case decides where to file the Article 15. An Article 15 in a soldier's official records will affect promotions, clearances, and special assignments.