DOD Service Academies:

Comparison of Honor and Conduct Adjudicatory Processes

NSIAD-95-49: Published: Apr 25, 1995. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the honor and conduct adjudicatory systems at the Department of Defense (DOD) service academies, focusing on: (1) how the systems at each academy compare; (2) the due process protections of these systems; and (3) the students' attitudes and perceptions toward these systems.

GAO found that: (1) although the honor systems at the academies have many similarities, there are some prominent differences among them; (2) the honor codes at the Military and Air Force academies include non-toleration clauses that make it an honor offense to know about an honor offense and not report it, while at the Naval Academy failure to act on a suspected honor violation is a conduct offense; (3) differences also exist in the standard of proof that is used in honor hearings, "beyond a reasonable doubt" used at the Air Force Academy versus "a preponderance of the evidence" used at the other academies; (4) academy honor hearings provide students with the majority of the protections typically associated with procedural due process, with some exceptions and limitations; (5) the most prominent limitations exist on the right to representation by counsel and the right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination; (6) all three academies impose a limitation on the right to counsel by prohibiting military or civilian lawyers from representing cadets and midshipmen in the hearing itself; (7) the right to remain silent is not granted until the individual is actually charged with an offense; (8) responses to a GAO questionnaire indicated that academy students generally saw their honor systems as fair; (9) in some cases, whether an act constitutes an honor violation is not completely clear because the intent of the accused must be inferred from the investigative and hearing processes; (10) there was considerable reluctance among students to report their fellow students for honor violations; (11) in general, the administrative conduct systems at the Military and Naval academies provide several due process protections, with some exceptions and limitations on others; (12) the Cadet Disciplinary Board proceedings at the Air Force Academy, on the other hand, provided fewer due process protections than proceedings at the other two academies; (13) as of January 1, 1995, the Air Force Academy eliminated the Cadet Disciplinary Board and implemented a two-step process aimed at improving timeliness and fairness in dealing with major conduct offenses; (14) while the conduct systems are characterized by academy officials as administrative, rather than judicial, they offer less due process protection than is mandated across DOD for other nonjudicial disciplinary proceedings; (15) a large majority of the students questioned the reasonableness of many of the minor rules and regulations in the conduct codes; and (16) many students perceive academy handling of conduct offenses, the application of rules and regulations, and the imposition of disciplinary actions as inconsistent.

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