Military Law: Article 15 vs. Court-Martial Proceedings
Not all military criminal charges are ultimately adjudicated at Court-Martial. Minor offenses are most often disposed of under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. An Article 15 punishment typically involves an enlisted person, but may sometimes be applied to the case of a commissioned officer. Article 15 involves the accused service member being brought before his or her Commanding Officer for disposition of charges. For example, if a service member is absent without leave for a short period of time he or she would likely be taken to Article 15 punishment. The accused service member does not have to accept disposition of charges at an Article 15 proceeding. The member has the option of rejecting that forum. In such an instance where the service member rejects Article 15 punishment, the matter could be referred to Court-Martial for adjudication. It is common in my practice to be presented with the military enlisted client who is facing a decision as to whether to accept or reject Article 15 punishment. This is certainly not a decision to be made lightly as potential punishment at Court-Martial is much more severe than punishment secondary to Article 15 proceedings. For example, a service member cannot be sentenced to confinement under Article 15. A military accused can be sentenced to confinement (jail time in the brig or stockade) subsequent to a finding of guilty at Court-Martial. A service member cannot be discharged from the service by the Commanding Officer as part of the punishment awarded at Article 15 proceedings. A Court-Martial may award a punitive discharge (Bad Conduct Discharge, or Dishonorable Discharge at a General Court-Martial) subsequent to a finding of guilty. Authorized punishments at both General and Special Courts-Martial are found in the "maximum punishment chart" (see Appendix 12 of the Manual for Courts-Martial). Note that Article 15 punishment can be used as the basis for subsequent Administrative Discharge proceedings.