UCMJ ARTICLE 134:FRATERNIZATION IN THE NAVY

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An up-to-date assessment of fraternization policy and best practices for Navy personnel

Service members of the Navy are trained from day one to show deference to the Chain-of- Command and respect their officers.  Officers, meanwhile, learn the importance of communication and building trust between enlisted sailors and themselves.

But not all interactions between officers and enlisted sailors are beneficial to that respect and trust which are so important to good order in the Navy.  When officers become too familiar with enlisted sailors, or they begin to treat some sailors differently than others, it may create dissension in the ranks, leading to anger, frustration, and distrust. 

Certain types of interactions may seem positive at the time, but the military’s code of conduct sees things differently.  When an officer becomes too familiar with an enlisted service member, he or she may be charged with fraternization, an offense that could severely impact that officer’s future.  

We’ll review the Navy’s fraternization policy in this article to help officers determine what types of relationships are allowed, and which could land you in hot water. 

What Is Fraternization in the US Navy?

Fraternization is any relationship between an officer and an enlisted sailor which could potentially lead to disorder in the ranks or the perception of bias or favoritism between other enlisted members.  Because order is sacrosanct in the military, there can be no tolerance for any relationships which could impair the judgment and function of the chain of command or even be perceived as doing so.  The topic of fraternization receives a great deal of attention because of how broad the offense is and how much damage it can do to an officer’s reputation and career.  Many officers have lost everything simply because they wanted to build a stronger bond between themselves and their unit.  Accusations of fraternization may be the result any number of actions or statements made by the officer.  Gambling, dating, or starting a business with an enlisted member are just some of the reason why an officer would be convicted of fraternization in the Navy. 

Where Can I Find Information About Fraternization Policy in the Navy?

Fraternization is considered an offense among all branches of the U.S. Military.  Because the crime impairs the good order and discipline of the armed forces, it is added into the General Article of the UCMJ, Article 134.  In addition to Article 134, further details about the Navy’s particular fraternization policy can be found in the most recent OPNAV Instructions released by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. 

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  • Here is a link to the most recent edition of the UCMJ.  Fraternization can be found in the punitive articles of the UMCJ, under Article 134. 
  • Updated fraternization policy specific to the Navy can be found in the OPNAV Instruction 5370.2D, the most updated version, which was released in 2016. 

Defining Unprofessional Relationships in the Navy

Fraternization policy for the Navy is generally described as:

  • Personal relationships between officers and enlisted members that are unduly familiar and do not respect differences in rank and grade.
  • Relationships that are of a nature to bring discredit on the U.S. Navy.

This policy applies to chief petty officers (CPO) (E-7 to E-9) and junior personnel (E-1 to E-6), who are assigned to the same command, but may also include any officer and enlisted, even if they are members of foreign military service. 

Going further, we find the OPNAV describing certain outcomes of personal relationships which could limit the Navy’s good order and discipline.  These outcomes, according to the Navy, may:

  • Call into question a senior’s objectivity;
  • Result in actual or apparent preferential treatment;
  • Undermine the authority of a senior; or
  • Compromise the chain of command

By the Navy’s own admission, it is impossible to set forth every act of fraternization that may be prejudicial to good order and discipline in the ranks.  What we do know is that dating (including any sexual acts), gambling, and regularly meeting subordinates for drinks or nights out are some of the most common reasons why officers are accused and convicted of fraternization. 

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The Consequences of Fraternization in the Navy

“Commands are expected to take administrative and disciplinary action as necessary to correct such inappropriate behavior,” according to the Navy’s latest OPNAV. Violation of this instruction…subjects the involved members to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).” –OPNAVIST 5370.2D

A review of fraternization charges under Article 134 of the UCMJ makes it clear how much officers stand to lose if they are convicted of this offense.  Sentencing for a fraternization charge may include: 

  • Dismissal
  • Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
  • Confinement for 2 years
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Any accusation of fraternization is serious, and the worst-case scenario is not an option.  It’s for this reason that we recommend a full review of your case by an experienced defense attorney for military crimes, no matter how certain you are of success in court. 

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