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Your Ultimate Guide to Handling Military Discipline

The United States has 1.5 million active-duty personnel. Of these 1.3 million men and women, 35% make up the army, 24% are in the Navy, another 24% in the Air force, 14% in the Marine Corps, and 3% in the Coast Guard.

These brave men and women have nobly decided to serve their country as a part of the U.S military, but with their commitment to serve also comes a commitment to military discipline.

So what exactly is expected from the military? And what laws do they abide by?

Let’s take a look.

The Concept of Military Discipline

Military discipline refers to the order of conduct every member of the military must abide by. It is essential to have this in place to ensure that there is a collective and individual understanding of obligations, expectations, a code of conduct, and responsibilities that come with being a part of the military.

In the U.S.A, these regulations are enforced through nonjudicial procedures as well as judicial procedures.

Nonjudicial Punishment

Nonjudicial punishments or NJP come into effect in the case of minor disciplinary offenses. However, the procedures vary from one military branch to the other.

The Army and the Air Force

The army and the air force follow a nonjudicial process governed by Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or the UCMJ. However, in addition to this, Part V of the Courts-Martial also applies to them.

Nonjudicial punishments can only be given by the commanding officer to a defaulting member under their command.

The Navy and the Coast Guard

A nonjudicial proceeding within the navy or the coast guard is usually called “captain’s mast” or “mast”. For the Navy, these may be enforced by the officer in charge who holds court-martial authority.

The Marine Corps

The non-judicial process followed within the marine corps is called “office hours”. Like the navy, these can be enforced by the officer in charge.

Understanding Article 15

The officers in charge or the commanding officers generally follow a similar process within their respective branches. These procedures under article 15, office hours, and mast involve the following:

  1. Making an inquiry into alleged military offenses by an officer under their command
  2. Holding a fair hearing for the member so accused
  3. Taking a call by dismissing the case, deciding a punishment or forwarding the case to a court-martial for further review

Keep in mind that as a nonjudicial procedure, the officers in charge, or the commanders do not the judicial powers to hold a trial. They are only responsible to investigate minor offenses.

For bigger offenses, a judicial approach would be necessary. Here, the officer would face adverse military actions and discipline trials in court.

So, how do commanders determine whether an offense is under their purview or requires stricter action?

What Qualifies as a Minor Offense?

The concept of a “minor offense” is rather vague, and there is a wide scope for interpretation. Generally, these factors determine whether an offense is minor or not.

  • Whether the maximum punishment exceeds 30 days of confinement
  • The nature of the offense and the gravity of its consequences
  • Whether the action is an infraction or breach of military standards or a crime
  • The degree to which there is a failure to meet disciplinary requirements
  • Whether the action is negligent or willfully or grossly disobedient

Although these factors matter, it is left largely to the discretion of the commanding officer. However, there is an
expectation that they evaluate these factors with regard to specific cases to determine the nature of the offense.

Rights of the Accused

Every nonjudicial procedure comes with rights that protect the interests of the accused. These exist to ensure that the commanding officers or officers in charge do not abuse their power. Here are a few of these rights:

  • The right to demand a trial by court-martial
  • Getting adequate information and intimation on any impending action
  • Information on the alleged offense and related evidence
  • Knowledge of the right to demand trial by court-martial
  • The right and knowledge of the right to confer with a lawyer or any other representative
  • The right against self-incrimination
  • Accompaniment by a spokesperson
  • The right to presenting a strong defense
  • The right to present their own evidence and call upon relevant witnesses
  • The right to a public hearing, whenever possible

Additionally, the burden of proof rests upon the commander or officer in charge. This means that there is a presumption of innocence upon the officer unless proven guilty through evidence provided by the commander.

Grounds for Appeal

In case, the commanding officer imposes a punishment, the accused also has a right to appeal under Article 15. They also have the right to be informed of this right.

There are two grounds under which, you can file for an appeal.

  • Where you believe that the imposed punishment is unjustifiable
  • Where such punishment is disproportionate to the offense committed

Every appeal must be filed within five days of the decided NJP. However, this may be extended if you have a good reason for your delay.

A Disciplined Military Is an Efficient One

Order, structure, and a common moral code is essential to every efficient military unit. However, while abiding by military discipline rules is important to the success of a unit, the abuse of disciplinary action is harmful.

Have you experienced an unfair hearing? Do you know someone who has? If so, it is essential that you get the legal help you need to stand up to this injustice.

Like this article? Share it with a friend or an officer in the military through WhatsApp, Facebook, or Twitter, and let them know of their rights!