Non-Judicial Punishment in the Air Force
Part V of the Manual for Courts Martial outlines the non- judicial punishment
that can be imposed on air force staff when they are found to have committed
minor offenses. Also known as Article 15 proceedings, the objective behind
this kind of punishment is to deter the staff member and others from committing
similar offenses and to reprimand him/ her for the act. The superior officer
imposing the punishment takes into account the fact that court martial
will damage the accused staff member's record and this may pose problems
for his/ her career advancement in future. In general, non- judicial punishments
rely heavily on the discretion and judgment of the superior officer who
is invested with the powers to impose such punishment.
A Toll to Enforce Progressive Discipline
Specifics about this kind of disciplinary punishment that can imposed on
air force staff are detailed in AFI 51-202, non- judicial punishment.
Article 15 provides commanders with the means to ensure that orderliness
and discipline are maintained under their command at all times. When an
airman commits a minor offense, the commander is advised to impose the
lowest form of disciplinary action that is available to him. Stronger
measures are to be taken only if the airman repeats the mistake or his
misbehavior continues unabated.
Article 15 measures are a higher form of disciplinary action than mere
verbal or written reprimands but they are not equivalent to court martial
proceedings. In effect, they provide an easy and effective way to impose
progressive discipline. It is important to remember that commanders have
full discretion to impose Article 15 punishments or initiate court martial
proceedings if the situation demands it. These decisions are taken on
a case to case basis taking into account many factors including the designation,
age, current status of the accused air force member, the offense committed
and the circumstances under which it was committed.
The Process of Imposing Non-Judicial Punishment
Non- judicial punishments or NJP can be imposed by the commander if he
believes that the accused has actually committed the offense and that
a mere reprimand will not suffice in the situation. However, there are
certain procedures to be followed here to ensure that the rights of the
accused are fully safe guarded. A formal intimation has to be given to
the accused air force staff member that proceedings are being initiated
to consider imposition of NJP. The air force man has a three day period
within which he can respond to the commanding officer verbally or in writing
but this period can be extended with the permission of the commanding officer.
The air force man on whom the Article 15 proceedings are being initiated
has the choice of accepting or turning down the punishment. Rejecting
the NJP does not result in the withdrawal of the charges and the accused
person can also choose to address it via a court martial proceeding instead.
On the contrary, the commanding officer also has the option of issuing
a reprimand, escalating the matter to a court martial or, depending on
the case, deciding to take no further action at all.
If the Article 15 is accepted, the evidence that is being used to 'prove'
that the offense was committed by the air force man is presented to him.
In addition, the accused personnel can bring a spokesperson with him when
the article 15 proceedings are being carried out. At this time he has
the right to interview any witnesses being called and also present other
facts or his own witnesses to prove his innocence. It is important to
note that accepting Article 15 proceedings is not an admission of guilt
in any way.
What kind of punishment can be imposed under NJP?
Under Article 15 different kinds of NJP can be imposed depending on the
discretion of the commanding officer. As mentioned earlier, the commander
is required to impose the minimum punishment that will serve the purpose
of maintaining discipline in the air force. The rank of the person who
had made the accusation and the rank of the person charged, both play
key roles in determining the degree of punishment imposed. Typically,
the punishments imposed range from extra duty, reprimands, pay cuts, rank
reduction, confinement to quarters, reduced rations or confinement to
specific limits. It is impossible to state exactly what punishment will
be given in each case since the commander's judgment factors in significantly
in this aspect.
There is a provision under UCMJ to appeal the decision of the commander
and the air force man has a period of five days within which he can appeal
to higher authorities. If he believes that the punishment is unjust, disproportionate
or that the commander has not taken all the factors into consideration
before making the final decision, this should be mentioned in the appeal.
If the appeal appears valid to the higher officials the punishment may