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What is Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer?

 In ARTICLE 133, Blog

Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a provision that military officers, cadets, or midshipmen from engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The article states that any commissioned officer, warrant officer, or enlisted member who behaves in a manner that is conduct unbecoming of an officer or a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. The phrase “conduct unbecoming of an officer” is not defined in the UCMJ, which means that it is left up to military courts to determine what specific behaviors violate the article.

What are examples of Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer?

Examples of conduct unbecoming and officer may include engaging in dishonest or unethical behavior, engaging in criminal activity, or engaging in behavior that is disrespectful or offensive to others. Some specific actions that may violate Article 133 include:


Sexual harassment or assault

Engaging in fraudulent activities

Engaging in hazing or bullying

Public drunkenness or disorderly conduct

Making disrespectful or derogatory remarks about superiors or subordinates

Discriminating against others based on race, gender, religion, or other protected characteristics

What are some high-profile cases of Article 133?

There have been several high-profile cases of Article 133 violations in the military. Here are a couple of notable examples:

Tailhook scandal – In 1991, a group of Navy and Marine Corps officers attended a convention in Las Vegas where they engaged in rampant sexual harassment of women attendees. More than 80 women reported incidents of assault or harassment. As a result of the investigation into the scandal, several officers were charged with violations of Article 133 and other UCMJ provisions.

General Jeffrey Sinclair – In 2014, Army General Jeffrey Sinclair was charged with multiple violations of the UCMJ, including a violation of Article 133. Sinclair was accused of engaging in an extramarital affair and engaging in inappropriate relationships with subordinates, as well as using his position to pressure women into having sex with him.

These cases demonstrate that Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer is taken very seriously in the military and that violations of the provision can result in severe consequences for service members, including loss of rank, dishonorable discharge, and even criminal charges.

How is Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer normally charged?

More often however, Article 133 Conduct unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman is charged for less severe misconduct. It is often found bound up with other charges after a command investigation finds an officer has committed misconduct that falls short of requiring a court-martial. Examples of these are fraternization, larceny, toxic leadership, or sexual harassment.

The Law Office of Peter Kageleiry, Jr. has defended many officers who faced this specific charge at a Board of Inquiry or through a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR). In these cases Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming an Officer has either been a stand-alone charge or bound up in other charges faced by the accused. Usually there is a perfect storm of bad circumstances that surround an otherwise solid performer unlikely to commit misconduct. It’s the defense attorney’s job to ensure these circumstances are illustrated to the board to demonstrate how the accused is either not guilty of the violation or that the violation was of not a nature to merit dismissal from the service.

There have been instances where Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has been used to punish officers who have not necessarily violated any specific rules or regulations, but whose behavior is deemed to be unbecoming of an officer or a gentleman. However, the provision is not intended to be a catch-all for punishing officers for conduct that is merely embarrassing to the military.

The language of Article 133 is intentionally broad, and it is up to military courts to interpret and apply the provision on a case-by-case basis. While this can result in some discretion in how the provision is used, overall, Article 133 is intended to promote high standards of conduct among military officers.  The provision should be used appropriately and fairly to uphold these standards.

However, appropriate use is difficult to attain. In a reference from The Devil’s Article (Military Law Review, 1962), Wing Commander D.B. Nichols notes comments from Lord Reid, British House of Lords: “our criminal law should be certain: that a man should be able to know what conduct is [criminal] and what is not criminal, particularly when heavy penalties are involved”. The broad nature of both Article 134 and Article 133 is more of a matter of “I know it when I see it” than a specific list of violations.

In most instances of less severe violations of Article 133, commanders, use the General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand to demonstrate that they won’t tolerate any misconduct. Due to the broad language of the article, it doesn’t take much for an inexperienced investigating officer to find the suspect violated Article 133. A GOMOR filed permanently is a career killer which is why the accused should start fighting back as early as possible in the investigation and the GOMOR response process.

What is the maximum punishment for violating Article 133?

The penalties for violating Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) can vary widely depending on the severity of the offense and the circumstances surrounding it. Possible punishments include:

Administrative actions: For minor offenses, a commanding officer may take administrative actions, such as issuing a reprimand, revoking a security clearance, or assigning extra duties.

Nonjudicial punishment: More serious violations of Article 133 may result in nonjudicial punishment, also known as Article 15 or Captain’s Mast punishment. This type of punishment is imposed by a commanding officer without a formal court-martial proceeding. The punishment may include forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank, extra duties, or confinement to quarters for a specified period.

Court-martial: The most severe violations of Article 133 may result in a court-martial proceeding. A court-martial can result in a range of punishments, including fines, reduction in rank, confinement, or dishonorable discharge from the military. In some cases, a violation of Article 133 may also result in criminal charges under civilian law. It’s unlikely a single charge of Article 133 would ever go to court-martial. However, in sexual assault cases, where the military takes the accused to court-martial, Article 133 may be an additional charge.

The penalties for violating Article 133 are not set in stone and may vary depending on the specific facts of the case. For example, if the conduct is found to be particularly egregious or if the officer has a history of disciplinary problems, the punishment may be more severe. Additionally, a service member’s rank and position within the military may also be taken into account when determining the appropriate penalty.

If you are under investigation for Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming, call us today 757-504-2815 or contact us here.

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