Article 15 and Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP)
What is Article 15?
Article 15, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), allows a commander to administer punishment for alleged minor violations of the UCMJ without going through the court-martial process.
Proceedings under Article 15 are called different terms in different branches of the military. In the Army and Air Force, it is known as “Article 15”, while in the Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard it is known as "being NJP’d,” Captain’s Mast (or Admiral’s Mast), or Office Hours. An Article 15 hearing is not a criminal conviction and is placed in the individual’s service record.
Offenses Punishable Under Article 15
Article 15, UCMJ, gives a commanding officer power to punish individuals for minor offenses normally not appropriate for a court-martial but more serious than administrative counseling.
NJP is reserved for “military specific” offenses and offenses that may also be civilian offenses, but are minor violations. Sleeping on duty, disobeying military orders, disrespect to superiors, and underage drinking are examples of disciplinary infractions usually punished under Article 15.
The circumstances surrounding the offense are factors for determining whether the charge is minor. For example, willful disobedience of an order during combat can have fatal consequences and be a serious matter, while willful disobedience of an order to report to the barbershop is not as serious an offense. The commander is free to use their best judgement when determining whether NJP action under Article 15 is appropriate.
The first step is for the commander to “offer” a servicemember NJP. The commander must tell the servicemember what the alleged misconduct is, show them the supporting evidence, and notify the member of their rights under the UCMJ. When offered an Article 15, the servicemember has the right to accept NJP proceedings or to refuse the NJP and request a court-martial.
Accepting an Article 15
If the servicemember accepts Article 15 proceedings, it is not an admission of guilt. Rather, it is the choice to have the imposing commander determine if the servicemember is guilty or not guilty of the alleged offense(s). The servicemember allows the commander to act as judge and jury.
During Article 15 proceedings, the imposing commander must listen to the servicemember’s case if they choose to present one. The servicemember may present witnesses or other evidence to show why they are not guilty and/or why punishment should be minor. The servicemember can provide an oral or written statement about the allegations, why they should not be punished, or why that punishment should be minor. Whether the servicemember may request a military lawyer to help them with their case depends on the branch of service.
After presentation of all the evidence, the commander decides whether the servicemember is guilty of the alleged offense(s) or not. If the servicemember is not guilty, the NJP is dismissed. If the servicemember is guilty, the commander will determine the punishment. The servicemember will be notified of the punishment in writing.
Preparing a strong presentation for defense and mitigation can be very important. Retaining the help of a lawyer like Stephanie can be the difference between the end of a career and a second chance.
Rejecting an Article 15
If the servicemember requests a court martial, the NJP is terminated and the commander must decide if they will dismiss the allegations, take other administrative action including administrative discharge processing, or proceed to court-martial.
Before rejecting an Article 15, you should speak to us to assess your case’s strengths and weaknesses. See our article “Why Should You Hire a Civilian Defense Counsel?” then call Kral Criminal Defense.
Article 15 Punishments
For enlisted personnel, the range of punishments typically imposed under Article 15 involves reduction in grade, restriction, extra duty, and forfeitures of pay. Punishments are different for officers. The maximum punishment for officer and enlisted personnel depends on the grade of the officer imposing punishment. Additionally, the follow-on administrative actions for an officer can also be very significant.
Article 15 Appeals
If you are found guilty and punished you have the right to appeal to the next higher commander. Grounds for appeal can include: (1) not enough evidence was presented to find you guilty; (2) the punishment imposed was too severe; or (3) the commander did not follow proper procedures. When reviewing your appeal, the commander can overturn a finding of guilt, lessen the punishment, or keep the punishment the same. Your punishment cannot be increased during an appeal.
If you have been offered an Article 15 or Nonjudicial Punishment, please read “Why Should You Hire a Civilian Defense Counsel?” and contact Kral Criminal Defense for a free consultation with Stephanie Kral. Stephanie is a military veteran and former JAG officer. She was a member of an elite group of senior criminal litigators and is intimately familiar with every aspect of the UCMJ.
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