What is Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming an Officer?
Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, an article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), prohibits military officers, cadets, or midshipmen from engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The article states that a commander may punish any commissioned officer, warrant officer, or enlisted member who behaves unbecomingly of an officer or a gentleman at court-martial. The phrase “conduct unbecoming of an officer” is not defined in the UCMJ. 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 an officer may include engaging in dishonest or unethical behavior, engaging in criminal activity, or engaging in disrespectful or offensive behavior toward 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, the military charged several officers with violations of Article 133 and other UCMJ provisions.
General Jeffrey Sinclair: In 2014, The Army charged General Jeffrey Sinclair with multiple violations of the UCMJ, including a breach of Article 133. The Army accused Sinclair 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.
General George S. Patton (World War II): General Patton, known for his leadership during World War II, faced controversy for several incidents, including slapping two soldiers who were experiencing battle fatigue. His actions were seen as a violation of military conduct, and he was reprimanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
General William “Billy” Mitchell (Interwar Period): Mitchell, an early advocate for air power, faced a court-martial in 1925 for insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer. He had publicly criticized the military leadership and advocated for the importance of air power, leading to his court-martial and subsequent resignation.
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (Iran-Contra Affair): North, a Marine Corps officer, played a key role in the Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan administration. He was charged with offenses related to his involvement in the covert operation and was convicted, although the convictions were later vacated.
General David Petraeus (Resigned as CIA Director): While not directly related to his military service, General Petraeus resigned as the Director of the CIA in 2012 due to an extramarital affair. This incident raised concerns about personal conduct unbecoming an officer and public official.
Major General David Hale (Adultery): Major General Hale, a high-ranking Army officer, faced disciplinary action in 1998 for charges related to adultery. Adultery is considered a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and can be grounds for disciplinary action.
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 typically charged?
More often, however, Article 133 Conduct unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman is charged for less severe misconduct. Commands tend to add on this charge 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 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, a perfect storm of dire circumstances surrounds an otherwise solid performer who is unlikely to commit misconduct. It’s the defense attorney’s job to illustrate these circumstances to the board to demonstrate how the accused is either not guilty of the violation or that the breach was not a nature to merit dismissal from the service.
There have been instances where the military has used Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to punish officers who have not necessarily violated any specific rules or regulations but determined they were demonstrating behavior unbecoming of an officer or a gentleman. However, the military does not intend Article 133 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 commands use the provision, overall, Article 133 is intended to promote high standards of conduct among military officers. Commands should use Article 133 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 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 action, 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. A commanding officer imposes this type of punishment without a formal court-martial proceeding. The penalty may include forfeiture of pay, reduced 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 various punishments, including fines, reduction in rank, confinement, or dishonorable discharge from the military. In some cases, violating 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 can vary depending on the case’s facts. For example, if the command finds the conduct particularly egregious or if the officer has a history of disciplinary problems, the punishment may be more severe. Additionally, the command may consider a service member’s rank and position within the military when determining the appropriate penalty.