What happens during an Article 32 investigation?

During an Article 32 investigation, witnesses are examined and information is reviewed to determine if probable cause for a crime exists.

When a crime allegedly occurs in the military, an Article 32 investigation often occurs before trial proceedings move forward. These investigations are similar to both civilian preliminary hearings and civilian grand juries because they are designed to determine if there is enough cause to determine if a crime was committed and if the accused could be guilty of committing the crime. However, Article 32 investigations differ from civilian proceedings because they provide more protections to the person accused and they are much broader in terms of their scope.

The purpose of Article 32 investigations

Article 32 investigations serve specific, limited purposes. Some of the main purposes of these investigations include the following:

  • Consider the way the charges were enacted
  • Determine if probable cause exists and if enough evidence exists to figure out if the person accused actually committed the offense
  • Determine if the authority over the case has court-martial jurisdiction over the person accused and the offense in general
  • Make recommendations regarding how the case should be handled

These investigations also serve as an official way for pretrial discovery to occur. For this reason, witness statements are provided during these proceedings and those who testify may be cross-examined during the investigation.

Proceedings and the post-investigation report

As an Article 32 investigation takes place, the investigating officer will analyze all non-testimonial evidence relating the alleged crime and then examine all the witnesses. Although the Manual for Court-Martial and the Uniform Code of Military do not specifically outline what procedures need to be followed during these investigations, there are a few general steps the investigation officer will likely take.

For example, the officer may announce the beginning of the investigation and let the accused know of his or her right to counsel. The officer may read the charges against the accused, review the evidence against the accused, call available witnesses and review any evidence that favors the accused.

At the conclusion of the investigation, a written report detailing the investigation's proceedings must be submitted to the commander who was in charge of the investigation. This report must include a variety of information, such as the investigating officer's opinion on whether reasonable grounds exist for a trial to move forward and any recommendations the officer has for the disposition of the trial.

Steps for service members

The results of an Article 32 investigation and any proceedings that follow can have a long-term impact on military service members and their careers. For this reason, those accused of a crime while serving in the military should contact an attorney who can support them in their defense.