What Does the Military Consider to be Fraternization?
Fraternization is the concept of improper relationships in the military, which can range from business relationships to friendships to romantic relationships. Such relationships, when occurring between military members of different ranks and positions, are prohibited, as they can undermine the chain of command. The military does not prohibit all contacts between various military personnel of unequal rank, just those that either compromise or appear to compromise the chain of command and the order and discipline of command.
In order to clearly understand when relationships are and aren’t proper, it’s important to take a look at the definition of fraternization as well as when it can be charged as an offense.
The Definition of Fraternization
Before 1999, each branch of the military used to have its own set of rules regarding fraternization. That year, these rules were consolidated into one uniform policy, which specifies that certain relationships are always improper and subject to fraternization rules. Such relationships include relationships between officers and enlisted service members that are personal or involve gambling or ongoing business. Other prohibited relationships are those that have an adverse effect on the chain of command, even if it’s just the appearance of impropriety.
The main reason that the military prohibits fraternization is that it can have a severe influence on the chain of command. If an officer has preferential feelings for an enlisted service member in their command, this can severely impact the functioning of the unit. As lives can be lost due to such preferential treatment, the armed forces strictly control and prohibit fraternization.
Of course, the military encourages a certain level of low-level friendship and teamwork between service members of different ranks and positions, especially at teamwork events. However, the moment this becomes personal, such as an officer taking an enlisted service member out for drinks after the game, this type of fraternization becomes prohibited, as it undermines the appearance of impartiality for the officer. As military superiors have to send troops into battle and can heavily influence an individual service member’s career, such social relationships are strictly forbidden.
There are some instances where the rules regarding fraternization can be relaxed. The most common instance is when an officer and service member were married before they joined the service or before the anti-fraternization policy was implemented. Another instance is between officers and enlisted service members of the National Guard who may have had an existing business relationship due to their civilian jobs. However, even these exceptions are subject to fraternization rules if they appear to have an adverse effect on the chain of command.
When is Fraternization an Offense?
Under Article 134 of the UCMJ, fraternization becomes a criminal offense when it compromises the chain of command, resulting in the appearance of partiality or otherwise undermining good order, discipline, authority, or morale. Charges can only be brought against an officer if the following conditions are present:
- The accused was a commissioned or warrant officer
- The accused fraternized with one or more enlisted members in a certain manner
- The accused knew these enlisted members were enlisted members
- The fraternization violated the custom of the accused’s non-fraternization with enlisted members
- The conduct of the accused prejudiced good order and discipline or brought discredit to the armed forces
While the offense can lead to formal charges, most offenses of fraternization don’t result in a court-martial, and penalties tend to vary according to the severity of the incident and the overall impact on the chain of command and morale of the unit.
Penalties for Fraternization
If the incidence of fraternization was minor and had little effect on the chain of command, the accused may receive a verbal or written reprimand. Other penalties can include the following:
- A 30-day suspension from duty
- Confinement to quarters for 30 consecutive days
- Extra duties
- Loss of a half-month’s pay for two months
If the case is more severe or flagrant, it may lead to a court-martial. The process is the same as with any other court-martial process, and the accused has access to counsel, the right to confront evidence and witnesses, and the right to appeal. If found guilty, the accused can face dismissal, confinement for two years, or forfeiture of pay.
Defending Against Fraternization Charges
As in a civilian court, the accused is presumed innocent until guilty. This means that they have recourse to defend themselves against fraternization charges by using any number of legal strategies. These can include showing proof that chain of command wasn’t compromised, proof of legal marriage, or proof that the alleged fraternization was under the auspices of an official duty.
Many good military defense attorneys will focus on undermining the case that the prosecution is making, either by poking holes in their story or by using expert testimony to provide reasons that the accusation is false.
While most military defense attorneys are well-qualified for their work, they can also operate with a heavy caseload. This can impede their ability to provide you with the strong defense you need, and you might want to consider hiring a civilian attorney specializing in military law as well. This lawyer can work together with your military attorney to provide you with the best defense possible.
If you’re stationed in Fort Carson or the Peterson Air Force base and have been accused of fraternization, you seriously need to consider your defense strategy. Being found guilty of fraternization can have severe consequences on your military career, even potentially ending it early. That’s why you need attorneys who are well-versed in military law, like those at Anaya-McKedy. We have experience with military criminal cases, ensuring that you get the best of both worlds.
By understanding your needs, we’ll be able to mount the best defense so that you can get back to your life as soon as possible. If you’re facing a court-martial for fraternization, why not give us a call? We’ll provide you with a free consultation, after which we’ll work aggressively to protect your rights and freedoms.