In contrast to formal courts-martial, Article 15 procedures in the U.S. military are a form of non-judicial discipline conducted by commanders. They do not result in a criminal record and may not affect a service member’s record in the military. These are the most common type of disciplinary proceeding in the armed forces and are usually limited to minor violations. A more serious offense will be handled through a formal court-martial. If a service member does not want to accept Article 15 penalties, they can request a court-martial, but this may result in more severe consequences. A service member should discuss the pros and cons of going to a court-martial with an attorney. (Read more here about courts-martial.)
Technically, imposing penalties under Article 15 in the Army and the Air Force requires proof of a violation beyond a reasonable doubt. Imposing penalties under Article 15 in the Navy and the Marines, by contrast, requires clear and convincing proof, which is a lesser standard. In reality, commanders often do not carefully consider the meaning of various standards of proof in imposing penalties.
Impact of Article 15
A military service member may be able to have their record of an Article 15 violation removed if they do not commit any more violations for a certain time. This might be two years if the Article 15 was filed at the Judge Attorney General office on a military base. Otherwise, an Article 15 violation can affect their future access to security clearances, as well as their chances of obtaining a promotion or certain types of assignments. Sometimes getting a promotion can wipe out a record of an Article 15 violation as well.
If you were arrested during the events that resulted in Article 15 penalties, you may face consequences in your civilian life. This is because arrests may be reported to the FBI. You can ask your commander to help you ask the FBI to remove the record of your arrest, or you can submit a request under privacy laws. As noted above, Article 15 does not result in a criminal record, so you should not face the same types of obstacles that people with convictions in a civilian court often face.
An Article 15 case may be referred to a less formal type of court-martial, known as a summary court-martial. If you do not want your case to be decided at a summary court-martial, you have the right to refuse it. You do not have a right to a free military defense attorney in a summary court-martial, as you would in other types of courts-martial, but you can hire a civilian defense attorney if you choose. You can see the evidence against you before the proceedings begin, as well as the nature of your charge and the names of your accuser and prosecution witnesses. You can ask for a spokesperson or other service members to speak on your behalf. However, a single officer will evaluate the evidence and make a decision. They will question both the accuser and the accused about their version of events, and they can ask for legal advice from a judge advocate if needed.
Military service members have a limited set of rights at a summary court-martial. They will be allowed to present witnesses and evidence, and they are free to remain silent without an inference of their guilt. They have a right to know the maximum possible sentence before the proceedings begin, and they can plead guilty or not guilty. They also have a right to make a statement or present further evidence to support a reduction in their penalties if they are found guilty. (They can ask to defer any part of their sentence that involves confinement.) They have a right to appeal if they are found guilty, using a copy of the trial record. The Military Rules of Evidence apply in these proceedings, so there are limits on the admissibility of evidence that are similar to the limits in civilian courts.