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The Legal System of the U.S. Army

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The Legal System of the U.S. Army

The military has its own set of rules and regulations that govern the actions of military personnel. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the foundation of military law. "UCMJ is a federal law, enacted by Congress" (Powers, April 9, 2005). To enforce these laws, commanders are given the power to charge soldiers with violations of the UCMJ either nonjudicially or through a trial by court-martial. This power allows the military courts to deal with more serious infractions and gives commanders the ability to conduct hearings for minor infractions such as disrespect, missing formations, failure to follow orders, and other such infractions. Throughout this paper, I will discuss my experiences with the military legal system over the past several years detailing the procedures and my analysis of the effectiveness of the legal system.

The Legal Foundation

I was a company commander at my last assignment and with that position came the legal powers and the responsibility to enforce the laws dictated by the UCMJ. With command, I had the power to discipline soldiers that did not warrant severe administrative corrective measures or trial by court-martial through nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 (Powers, April 9, 2005). Major Childress (2005), formally a legal services specialist, states, "The intent of an article 15 is to rehabilitate a soldier not to punish them. Because of this, the recidivism rate in the military is extremely low." The delegation of power to conduct Article 15 hearings allowed me and other commanders to ensure good order and discipline of our units.

Prior to charging my soldiers with an infraction to the UCMJ, I would consult my attorney because

a soldier has the following rights under Article 15, UCMJ: to appear personally before the commander who is offering the Article 15; turn down an Article 15 and demand trial by court-martial; submit matters and have people appear on their behalf; and to submit matters on appeal to the next superior authority, who may lessen the severity of punishment. (Article 15, Uniform Code of Military Justice, April 9, 2005)

The Process

The first step in the entire process was for my lieutenants and noncommissioned officers to bring my first sergeant all the documentation on the infraction and request an Article 15. The first sergeant would then consult with our Trial Defense Services (TDS). If the infraction warranted an Article 15, my first sergeant would prepare the request for an Article 15 and bring me the forms to sign. My first sergeant would also make a recommendation on what type of Article 15 that I needed to request --summarized, company, or field grade. I would review the evidence, make my recommendation, and sign the forms or dismiss the charges. Some infractions of UCMJ were totally out of my hands, such as the use of illegal substances. The battalion commander reserved this right to try these types of infractions as a field grade Article 15.

The next step in processing an Article 15 was for my first sergeant to send all the documentation and recommendation to TDS to review the evidence. After a couple weeks, we would receive the paperwork back from TDS and notify the soldier of "night court." We conducted all the hearings after duty hours, thus the nickname "night court." During the hearing, the accused would present evidence, call in witnesses, and provide documentation in his or her defense. On the other hand, the person/s accusing the soldier of the infraction presented material to prove the soldier's guilt. My responsibility was to hear all matters and render judgment. Most hearings only lasted an hour since the infractions were so minor and the accused did not rebut the charges, yet a few hearings lasted much longer with many witnesses and evidence to review. Upon completion of the hearing and judgment, I would advise the soldier of his or her rights to appeal my decision to the next higher level within five days. The soldier, if found guilty, would commence with his or her punishment immediately following the hearing. I would then send the Article 15 paperwork back to TDS for review and filing.

The Punishment

The cases I adjudicated were either a summarized or company grade article 15. The major differences between the two Article 15s was that a soldier receiving a company grade Article 15 was entitled to legal counsel from TDS since the punishment was greater than a summarized Article 15 (Article 15, Uniform Code of Military Justice, April 9, 2005). The punishment I could impose for a summarized Article 15 was 14 days extra duty and restrictions, deny the soldier legal counsel

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