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Old 08-04-2007, 05:11 PM
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Article 15 vs. Court Martial

RELEASE No. 20070726-13
July 26, 2007

Article 15 v. Court-martial; know your options
By Sgt. Jasmine Chopra
302nd MPAD

LSA ANACONDA, Iraq - When Soldiers accused of minor misconduct opt for
courts-martial instead of taking an Article 15, they can wind up with a
federal conviction and a bad conduct discharge for something as minor as
showing up late to work.

Of the 146 Articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the
one most familiar to Soldiers is the Article 15, usually reserved for
Soldiers accused of minor offenses. Soldiers facing an Article 15 might
get fearful or angry, but what they need to do is get informed about
their options, said Capt. Yolanda McCray, Senior Defense Counsel at the
central field office here for the Central Command area of
responsibility. McCray, from the US Army Trial Defense Service, serves
in a role similar to that of the public defender in the civilian justice

Soldiers can elect trial by courts-martial instead of accepting
an Article 15, but it's important to know the advantages and
disadvantages of both said, Capt. Jeremy Stephens, Senior Trial Counsel
for the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary.) Stephens serves as
chief in-court prosecutor for the command.

"When you first walk into the commander's office and they're
reading that Article 15, you're going to have a lot of things running
through your mind," said Stephens. "You might think you didn't do
anything wrong. You might think it's unfair that they're giving it to
you and you might think you want a court-martial, but you've got to
think it through. If you go to court-martial and lose, you may face more
severe punishment and you'll have a federal conviction on your record."

A court-martial is the military's formal criminal trial. From
least to most severe are the summary, special, and general. Conviction
in either a special or general court-martial constitutes a federal
criminal conviction. Summary Court-Martial is more formal than an
Article 15, but the punishment is not a criminal conviction.
Punishments range from reprimand, to reduction in rank, to confinement,
and more. One recent case resulted in a Soldier who turned down an
article 15 being found guilty at courts-martial of 14 counts of failure
to report and disrespect. The 19-year-old private first class was
reduced to E-1 and given a bad conduct discharge, said Stephens.
Another consideration about courts-martial in Iraq is that accused
Soldiers can be held in country till the conclusion of their case,
months past the date they were estimated to return home from deployment.

"They don't get any extra money for staying here past 12-months
boots on the ground," said Stephens.

Ultimately, it is a Soldiers decision whether to take an Article
15 or go to court-martial.

"The Soldier must decide how much risk they are willing to take
since you can never guarantee if someone is going to win or lose at
court-martial. You have to be willing to accept all of the
consequences," said McCray.

Once found guilty, a Soldier can appeal the conviction, but they
cannot opt for the original Article 15.

In Iraq, most Article 15s result from violations of General Order
Number One, an order which prohibits acts including, but not limited to,
possession of alcohol, and possession of pornography. Most
courts-martial result from sexual offenses, said Stephens. Misuse of
substances like paint and compressed air can also be punishable under
General Order Number One. One recent case resulted in eight months time
in confinement and bad conduct discharge for a Soldier who convinced his
buddy to huff aerosol. The buddy died as a result of huffing.
McCray urges commanders to mentor junior Soldiers accused of minor
misconduct with corrective training, prior to pursuing more severe

"Consider what end state you really want and how you can get there
without excessive measures," said McCray. "You want to be a commander
who is tough, but you also want to be a commander who is fair. It has to
be a balance between the two."

Both attorneys agree Soldiers ought to know and follow orders,
codes, and policies to stay out of trouble.

Since each case is unique, Soldiers should consult professionals
at their local Trial Defense Service office. For more general
information about Article 15 and courts-martial, consult Part V of the
Manual for Courts-Martial, Chapter 3 of Army Regulation 27-10.
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