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Fraternization

The military prohibits certain kinds of relationships, which means that military members are not entirely free to associate with anyone they choose.

The military primarily uses two articles of the UCMJ to define what military relationships are proper and which are not. Those two articles are Article 92 and Article 134. Article 92 covers “unprofessional” relationships and Article 134 covers fraternization.

Unprofessional relationships are those that compromise military authority or create an appearance of impropriety. The definition of unprofessional relationship is a bit fluid, but it essentially covers relationships that adversely affect or have the reasonable potential to adversely affect the military by eroding morale, good order, discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion, or by compromising the military mission itself.

Relationships between supervisors and subordinates have a high risk of becoming unprofessional. The military watches out for favoritism, misuse of position, and using a position to further one’s own goals. Actions that create just the appearance of impropriety can also be punished by the UCMJ.

Particular areas of concern include:

  • Shared living accommodations
  • Shared vacations
  • Shared transportation
  • Off-duty activities such as playing sports or drinking alcohol together
  • Flirtation
  • Sexual or romantic relations
  • Sexual or romantic communications (text, email, etc.)
  • Unprofessional relationships can develop either on or off duty, and they can exist between officers, between enlisted personnel, or between officers and enlisted personnel, or between military personnel and civilian employees.

Article 92 also covers relationships between recruiter-recruit, faculty-student, and trainer-trainee. In fact, these are some of the most common cases we get.

Unlike Article 92, which covers everyone, Article 134 can only be used against officers. Specifically, Article 134 prohibits an unprofessional relationship between an officer and enlisted member. From the military’s perspective, fraternization is about boundaries: an inappropriate relationship between an officer and an enlisted member can compromise good order and discipline, discredit the military, or have the effect of dishonoring the officer corps. Officers have a heightened responsibility to avoid any relationship that puts the mission or the integrity of the officer corps in jeopardy.

Examples of conduct that might get officers in trouble if they engage in it with enlisted personnel:

  • Gambling
  • Lending money or borrow money
  • Sexual or romantic relations
  • Sharing living quarters
  • Engaging in business or sales

Whether brought under Article 92 or Article 134, allegations of unprofessional relationships are some of the most common cases we handle. The military is very aggressive about these issues and it’s common for cases like this to be taken to a court-martial. Investigations often include a full review of email, text, and telephone communication, in addition to more traditional methods of investigation like interrogation and witness interviews. Any allegation of unprofessional relationship can destroy a career and result in jail time, loss of pay and allowances and all military benefits. At a minimum, it can destroy a reputation and compromise future promotions.

If you are faced with allegations of having engaged in an inappropriate relationship, you have a right to remain silent and you have a right to speak with an attorney. Our firm deals with cases like this all the time, and we often find that people are their own worst enemy: not just because of what they did in the relationship or what evidence they left behind, but because they willingly talk to authorities without first getting advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please call us for a free consultation before you say anything or make any decisions.

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