This is the first step after investigation but before any preliminary hearing or trial.
The person who signs the DD Form 453 is attesting that they either have personal knowledge of the facts underlying the allegations or that they have a good faith belief to believe the offenses. This person swears to the charges as accuser. The accuser on a military charge sheet is not the person or persons who claim an offense happens. These people are known as alleged victims.
Seldom does the accuser actually personally investigate the allegations on the charge sheet; they typically rely on a law enforcement or command investigation they reviewed.
When preferral occurs, the military accused is told to report at a certain place at a certain time and date in a specific uniform. Ordinarily, they are required to formally report (knocking, entering, and saluting with a form of greeting). Some commanders require the accused person to remain standing at the position of attention while the charges are read aloud to the person being accused. It is important for the military member to remain professional and to not react to the allegations. Even physical reactions, nods, or ticks can be seen as nonverbal admissions or statements that can later be used against you. Often government paralegals are present to watch for these kinds of responses in case they are later needed to testify during trial about any reaction made.
We always explain to our clients that the preferral of charges is NOT a time to be asking for clarification about the allegations, the nature of the offenses, or the evidence. This is a one-way conversation where the commander is required to notify their subordinate of the precise offenses. Do not ask questions. Do not comment. Do not ask for an investigation packet.
It is routine to standby while a physical hard copy is made to hand you that copy of your charge sheet.
Another copy of the charge sheet and the preferral investigation packet will be served on the servicing military defense counsel office so that the senior defense counsel can assign (known as “detailing) a uniformed military defense counsel to defend the person accused. It is our practice to notify the prosecution office ahead of time so that we can also receive a copy of the investigation at the time of preferral.
It is important that the accused person then physically presents themselves at the defense office to provide their contact information and to request a copy of their investigation packet. Though it is often emotionally difficult to review these packets, it will become vital to the defense to have your participation and help. A military accused is a critical part of their defense team.
The prosecution has 120 days from the initial preferral of charges until the accused person appears before a military judge for arraignment. The 120-day period does not include any requests for delays that are approved for the defense to prepare.