10 Things You Need to Know about Evidence at an Army Board of Inquiry

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When navigating the complexities of an Army Administrative Separation / Board of Inquiry, you and your advocate must understand the nature and application of allowable evidence.

These boards operate under the guise of a framework that touts itself as designed to ensure fairness, accuracy, and transparency. Drawing from paragraphs 3-7 of Army Regulation 15-6, we explore ten critical insights into what evidence you should be leveraging for your best chances for a fair outcome.

1. Definition and Scope of Admissible Evidence

Evidence at an Army Show Cause Board / Board of Inquiry encompasses all means by which alleged facts, the truth of which is submitted for investigation, get proven or disproven. This broad definition underscores the board’s flexibility in considering various types of evidence, including documents, testimonies, and material objects. With few limitations, the rules are supposed to allow for a comprehensive evaluation of whether the Officer committed the noticed misconduct.

2. Standard of Proof

The Army Board of Inquiry operates under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This means that for evidence to be deemed credible, its likelihood of truth must simply outweigh the likelihood of its untruth. Put otherwise, we say it is more likely than not. This standard, less stringent than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is what governs the decision-making processes within the board’s proceedings.

3. Rules of Evidence

Unlike civilian judicial systems, what happens at a Board of Inquiry includes procedure that is not strictly bound by the Federal Rules of Evidence. The board has the discretion to admit any relevant and material evidence if it deems the evidence to be of probative value. This approach claims as its aim to gather as much pertinent information as possible, even if such evidence would not be admissible in a civilian court.

4. Relevance and Materiality

For evidence to be admissible, it must be both relevant and material to the facts in issue. Relevance implies that the evidence should have a direct bearing on the case, aiding in the establishment or negation of a fact. Materiality, on the other hand, suggests that the evidence is significant and could influence the outcome of the proceedings based on its probative value.

5. Examination of Witnesses

The board has the authority to examine witnesses as part of the evidence-gathering process. This is true even if the board’s prosecutor, called the recorder, decides only to present a packet of paper as its proof of misconduct. The board members’ examination includes not only direct questioning by the board members but also cross-examination by the concerned parties. Such examination is designed to allow the board to assess the credibility of the witnesses and the reliability of their testimonies. In many boards, the government calls no witnesses. It begs the question, what is a show cause board?

6. Documentary and Real Evidence

In addition to testimonial evidence, the board considers documentary and real evidence. This can include official records, letters, reports, and physical objects connected to the case. The board is supposed to evaluate these pieces of evidence for their authenticity, relevance, and impact on the case’s resolution. When it comes to authenticity, which means whether a thing is what it purports to be, in most cases the item will come into evidence, but the board members will have to decide how much weight to give it.

7. Expert Testimony

Though rarely used, expert witnesses may provide testimony at an Army Board of Inquiry when specialized knowledge is required to understand evidence or determine a fact in issue. The board can rely on expert testimony to shed light on complex matters that are beyond the general knowledge of the board members, ensuring informed decision-making. The firm has called experts in digital forensics, DNA, fingerprint analysis, and the impacts of alcohol on memory. Sadly, leveraging expertise is often an unexplored option.

8. Weight and Credibility of Evidence

The board has the sole authority to determine the weight and credibility of the evidence presented. This means that what happens at a board of inquiry is to evaluate the reliability, consistency, and relevance of each piece of evidence, assigning significance to each in the context of the entire body of evidence. The credibility of witnesses, if any are called, is assessed through their testimony and demeanor, and also plays a crucial role in this evaluation.

9. Exclusion of Evidence

Evidence that is irrelevant, immaterial, or unduly repetitious may be excluded by the board. This exclusion aims to prevent the dilution of significant evidence and ensure the efficiency of the proceedings. The board’s legal advisors rules finally on objections to evidence and exercises judgment in determining the admissibility of evidence. The advisor is a judge advocate whose focus is supposed to be on admitting substantial, probative evidence.

10. Confidentiality and Protection of Evidence

Sensitive or classified information presented as evidence is subject to confidentiality protections under separate Army regulations. The board’s processes take measures to safeguard such evidence, ensuring that the handling and disclosure of sensitive material comply with security protocols and the principles of justice.

Conclusion

Navigating evidence at an Army Board of Inquiry requires a nuanced understanding of military law and procedure. By familiarizing oneself with the tenets outlined in Army Regulation 15-6, individuals can better comprehend the evidentiary framework that underpins these proceedings. The regulation’s provisions purport to ensure that evidence presentation is conducted with a commitment to fairness, thoroughness, and the pursuit of truth. Understanding these principles is crucial for anyone involved in or affected by an Army Board of Inquiry, as it directly impacts the integrity of the process and the justice rendered. Anticipating evidentiary objections is vital. You don’t need to go it alone. Contact us. Experience in leveraging the rules to your best advantage matters.

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