U.S. Military Lawyer - The Law Office of Stephen P. Karns

Non-Judicial Punishment/Article 15/Captain’s Mast

If your Command alleges that you are guilty of committing a minor violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), it may impose on you a nonjudicial punishment (NJP). Your Command is authorized to deal with minor violations or infractions of the UCMJ in this manner. In the Army, the term “Article 15” comes from the authorizing section of the UCMJ. In the Navy and Marines, the Article 15 or NJP procedure is called a “Captain’s Mast.” In the Air Force, the procedure is called “Office Hours.” Regardless of the branch in which you serve, you have rights in this process and an experienced military attorney can help you fight the charges made by your Command.

When offered an Article 15 or NJP, you have a basic choice to make: accept the action offered by your Command, or refuse it. You have a right to turn down the Article 15 and demand a court-martial trial. In addition, you have the right to consult an experienced military attorney, such as Mr. Karns, before you make this choice. For instance, if you decide to accept an Article 15, you lose your right to a trial by court-martial. Accepting the Article 15 is not an admission of guilt. It simply means that you elect not to have a judicial process, that is a trial, regarding the matter. Instead, you agree to have your commander determine whether you are guilty or not guilty of the violation. The result of accepting an Article 15 is that your commander becomes the judge and jury for the case, and you no longer have the right to a court-martial.

However, if you accept the Article 15, your command must listen to your side of the case. An experienced military attorney can help you prepare your case. Mr. Karns will help you gather and present relevant witnesses and documentary evidence, such as personnel records, arrest reports, witness statements, etc., to prove that you are not guilty. There may be evidence and/or witnesses available in your case that can directly substantiate your innocence. Mr. Karns can examine and develop this evidence and testimony. He can also advise and develop witnesses of your good character, positive military achievements, and good duty performance. These witnesses may also testify or give statements in your behalf. Lastly, Mr. Karns can also help you prepare and develop your own personal testimony in the case, the object of which is to persuade your command that you are not guilty, should not be punished, or should have your punishment reduced.

After all the evidence in your case is presented, including your side of the case, the commander will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of the charges. In addition to the evidence presented regarding the charges, however, Mr. Karns will also present any evidence in extenuation and mitigation of your case. This is evidence that serves to reduce your responsibility in the case, thereby lessening the possible punishment you may receive if you are found guilty. Mr. Karns can help you develop this evidence, which may include statements and/or documentation of your personal or family situation, awards, duty performance, and character and reputation. This evidence will include the potential impact of any imposed punishments on you, your career, your family and your children.

If the commander decides that you are not guilty, the proceeding ends and there are no consequences imposed as a result of the action. On the other hand, if your commander determines you are guilty, he will set the punishment as he deems appropriate. After he sets the punishment, he has the authority to not impose it. In other words, he can decide to suspend all or even part your punishment. An experienced military attorney can be instrumental in achieving this result. If your punishment is suspended, you may be given a probationary-type period for which, if you stay out of trouble, your sentence will be dismissed. If your punishment is not suspended, Mr. Karns may be able to have it delayed prior to it being imposed.

Below are the maximum punishments an enlisted member can receive:

If heard by a Field Grade Officer (O-4 and up):

  • Admonition or reprimand;
  • Confinement on diminished rations;
  • Correctional custody of not greater than 30 days;
  • Forfeiture of not greater than half of base pay for not more than 60 days;
  • Rank reduction (to E-1 for E-4 & below, one pay grade for E-5 & up);
  • Extra duty of not more than 45 days; and
  • Restriction of not more than 60 days.

If heard by a Company Grade Officer (up to an O-3):

  • Admonition or reprimand;
  • Confinement on diminished rations;
  • Correctional custody of not greater than 7 days;
  • Forfeiture of not more than 7 days base pay;
  • Rank reduction (one grade for E-4 & below, no reduction for E-5 & up);
  • Extra duty of not more than 14 days; and
  • Restriction of not more than 14 days.

There are subsequent administrative actions possible when receiving an Article 15. Mr. Karns can represent you if your command attempts to administratively separate you from the service. He can also represent you in such matters as the establishment of an Unfavorable Information File (UIF) in your Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), or a derogatory performance or Fitness Report evaluation.

If you decide to refuse or "turn down" an Article 15, your command will be forced to decide to possibly drop the case or forward it for prosecution via a court-martial. If your case proceeds to a court-martial, it may be a Summary, Special, or General Court-martial, depending on the charges and circumstances of the case. The consequences of a court-martial can be onerous—jail time, a punitive discharge, reduction in rank, a possible federal conviction and/or the denial of benefits and future employment opportunities.

Obviously, the decision of whether or not to turn down an Article 15 and in-turn demand a court-martial is most serious—consulting an experienced military attorney is highly recommended. Mr. Karns handles many of these cases, takes the time to listen to your concerns, and provides you with a seasoned, realistic evaluation of your case moving forward. Knowing the short and long-term legal consequences of your choice is just the beginning of your task, and Mr. Karns can help guide you to the best decision given your particular concerns.

Past Cases

Client, who had only been in the Army for under a year, was apprehended by military police as he entered the Global Reach gate on Fort Bliss due to an odor of alcohol emanating from his vehicle. Client failed the sobriety tests that were administered, and a breathalyzer revealed his blood alcohol concentration to be .11%. Client was arrested; his car was impounded; and he was placed on restriction and flagged for legal action. He faced a federal prosecution for DWI and separation from the Army. Client gave a sworn statement to his commander and then decided to hire Mr. Karns. Attorney Karns immediately contacted his command and requested that they refrain from imposing any prosecution or separation action. Client enrolled in ASAP, kept a good attitude and performed his duties. Even though the trial counsel pushed for a DWI case to be prosecuted in federal court, Mr. Karns advocated for Client to receive an Art. 15 and no separation. The Client’s commander agreed with Mr. Karns: an Article 15 was imposed, the federal case was dropped, and the Client was retained. Client suffered no criminal conviction for DWI, no driver license suspension, and no separation.

Army First Sergeant was a drill sergeant and became under investigation for profiting for personal gain by requiring trainees to buy units coins that he purchased. He was read a Field Grade Article 15 for Failure to Obey a Lawful General Order, False Official Statement, Larceny, and Obstruction of Justice. Client hired Mr. Karns and turned down the Article 15 because he felt that the Brigade Commander would not give him a fair hearing. Charges were then preferred against him, and Mr. Karns represented him at the Article 32 hearing. At the hearing, Mr. Karns demonstrated that Client did not commit larceny, did not lie, and did not profit from selling the coins. The Art. 32 hearing officer recommended that Client receive a Letter of Reprimand. Client’s Brigade Commander would not agree to a LOR, so Client agreed to an Art. 15 if the Commanding General (a three star) heard the case. Mr. Karns represented Client in front of the CG, and the CG found Client not guilty of all of the charges.

Petty Officer 1st Class was ordered to Captain’s Mast and reduced in rank for disrespecting a senior officer, disobeying a lawful order, and resisting arrest. Mr. Karns intervened and the commander agreed to suspend the reduction in rank.