Better Administration of the Military's Article 15 Punishments for Minor Offenses Is Needed

FPCD-80-19: Published: Sep 2, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 2, 1980.

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Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is intended to give military commanders a swift, efficient, and easy way to: (1) punish those committing minor offenses; (2) maintain discipline; and (3) deter misconduct. The punishments authorized for article 15 are limited and generally less severe than those that can be imposed by court-martial. Also, unlike a court-martial, an article 15 is not considered a conviction for a criminal offense. However, problems have occurred with the use, implementation, and oversight of article 15. As a result, the maximum benefits possible from its use are not being realized.

GAO found that article 15 can negatively affect service members' entire careers. The article 15 punishment often becomes a permanent part of the service members's personnel file and can lead to involuntary separation from the service with a less than honorable discharge, which can limit veterans' benefits and civilian employment opportunities. Most of the service members interviewed considered article 15 to be unfair and stated that work efficiency, morale, and career-mindedness are adversely affected by its use. However, senior enlisted personnel generally considered it fair. GAO believes that most commanders conscientiously attempt to make appropriate, fair, and effective decisions in imposing article 15, based on the unique circumstances of each case. However, GAO found that wide disparities exist within and among the services with respect to how offenses are dealt with. The article 15 punishment process involves only a minimum of legal and procedural safeguards. Once a service member accepts it, the commander imposing it has wide discretion in deciding what punishment to impose. The service members infrequently used the safeguards offered because they were unaware of their availability, did not see the benefits to be derived, and/or feared reprisals. While inconsistent punishments were a major source of dissatisfaction with article 15 recipients interviewed, few punishments were appealed.

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