Article 15 / NJP
Here are the basic rules and regulations for how an Article 15 should be processed.
Article 15, UCMJ, allows a commander to impose punishment without the necessity of a trial. This is called nonjudicial punishment. In the sea-services, you will hear the procedure referred to as Captain’s Mast (or Admiral’s Mast) or Office Hours in the Marine Corps.
An Article 15 hearing is not a conviction—it is an administrative punishment. If you have been investigated by any MCIO and the case has been disposed of at NJP, there still may be a record of that arrest and the charges in the federal database of arrests and convictions Sometimes an Article 15 for those allegations is reported as a conviction. You should check for this, especially when applying for a job that wants to know about any prior military service. There is a process to have inaccurate records corrected.
There is a statute of limitations for Article 15—punishment cannot be imposed more than two years after the alleged misconduct. However, it may be the situation where it’s a good idea to waive the limitation, especially if you are at Article 15 for relatively serious offenses that could result in a very significant punishment at court-martial. Give us a call to discuss.
The process starts with notification of the action. In the Army and Air Force they refer to this as the first reading. Here you will get a copy of the allegations, told of your rights, and begin preparations. You should also get a copy of the evidence that the commander will rely on to decide if you should be punished. These are legal rights listed in the Manual for Courts-Martial that any military defense counsel should know about.
Just like at court-martial, you can be punished under Article 15 for any offense regardless of when and where you are alleged to have committed it. So, you can be punished for conduct off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
One of your rights is to decline punishment. If you do this the commander has several options: dismiss the allegations, give you a warning and move on, or proceed to court-martial; or proceed to an administrative discharge proceeding. You should talk with us before you refuse Mast—the strengths and weaknesses of your case need to be assessed and balanced against the risks at court-martial where the punishments are more severe. Many times, the person is accused of some minor offenses to which they have a defense, but when they refuse Mast a more detailed investigation is done, and more serious charges uncovered which “hurts” at a court-martial and the likelihood of a conviction goes up.
Keep in mind that the standard of proof in the Army is beyond reasonable doubt, the same as at court-martial. The Navy and Marine Corps use a lower standard of 'by a preponderance' we think you did it.
Punishments are limited and usually consist of a reduction, forfeitures, extra duty (usually up to three hours after the normal work day), and restriction. Keep in mind that some punishments are limited based on your rank and the rank of the commander. Also, it is not uncommon to have all or part of the punishment suspended for up to six months—if you are a first-timer, you are "liked" by your leadership, and your leadership advocate for you.
Being placed on liberty risk is not a punishment that can be imposed at Article 15, although it may become a consequence if you continue to get in minor trouble. Being on liberty risk is not being restricted as a punishment.
An administrative discharge is not a punishment although it is not uncommon for the commander to state you will be processed for administrative separation as part of announcing the punishment.
We have helped many service-members prepare a package for presentation to the commander in advance of a NJP hearing. Part of that package can include legal arguments why you have not committed an offense according to the UCMJ or why your character is so good you should be treated leniently.
If you are punished, you can appeal. The appeal must be done within five days unless you can a delay request approved. If you appeal, any restriction and hard labor is delayed pending an answer on the appeal. We have helped many service-members prepare an appeal package. You can appeal because the punishment was unjust (you didn’t do it) or the punishment is too severe.
A little known, but for us often used, is a process for the set-aside or remission of punishment. The key here is that it usually must be requested within four months of the punishment being announced. As a staff judge advocate I have recommended a set-aside when more than four months have passed in a really meritorious case.