15-6 InvestigationMay 18, 2020
A 15-6 Investigation is the Army's primary tool for gathering information in a variety of situations. This type of investigation is commonly referred to as a "15-6" by Soldiers. The name comes from the regulation that governs how to conduct a 15-6 Investigation. That regulation is Army Regulation 15-6, available at this link.
Generally speaking, Commanders initiate a 15-6 Investigation. There are situations when a civilian or a non-Commander can appoint one as well. For example, a COL in a principal staff position (S1, S2, S3, etc.) can also appoint a 15-6 Investigation. A 15-6 Investigation can be appointed to look into any situation; however, there are certain types of investigations that must be conducted by CID (i.e. sexual assaults) or the Military Police.
Initiating a 15-6 investigation is easy. The initiating authority usually asks their legal officer to draft an appointment memorandum that explains what the investigation will be focused on (appointment memo examples can be found in AR 15-6). Then, he/she picks someone to be the 15-6 Investigating Officer (IO). The IO is usually a Commissioned Officer; however, Warrant Officers and civilians in the rank of GS-11 or above can also be appointed. Furthermore, E7s or above can be appointed. For this to happen, it must be determined that no other qualified IOs are reasonably available. Finally, the IO must be senior in rank to any subject of the investigation.
Once the IO is appointed, he/she will review their appointment memo and should meet with their legal advisor. This is advisable because the legal advisor will help the IO determine a plan for the investigation and advise him/her on how to collect evidence.
After the IO has received their legal briefing, he/she will start the investigation. The IO's goal is to collect evidence and make findings that will be presented to the Appointing Authority. Most commonly, the IO will meet with individuals and collect statements. Some IOs will only ask for written statements, while others prefer to talk first and draft a statement up later. Either method is permissible. Furthermore, IOs will collect hard evidence, if available. This evidence could include text messages, videos, previously written statements, pictures, etc.
Anyone who finds themselves being interviewed during the course of a 15-6 should proceed with caution. If anyone is asked by an IO to give a statement or be interviewed, that individual should request to see the IO's appointment memo. If the topic of the investigation is something that could get the individual being questioned in trouble, then he/she should immediately talk to a lawyer. IOs are required to read individuals their rights if they suspect him/her of misconduct. However, IOs are inexperienced and often forget to do this. Believe it or not, statements given without a rights advisement can still be used against a Soldier for a variety of administrative actions (GOMORs, Administrative Separations, etc). Therefore, it is incumbent upon the individual being questioned to look out for their best interest and to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to be interviewed by an IO.
IOs can also request to view and copy evidence from individuals. However, unless the IO has a search and seizure authorization signed by a Commander (which is rare), individuals do not have to provide the IO with the evidence, if it is potentially incriminating. Before anyone shows an IO any evidence (i.e. text messages), he/she should consult with a lawyer.
The IO will gather evidence until he/she has enough information to make findings to the Appointing Authority. Once complete, the IO should write a detailed report that answers the questions that they were appointed to answer. He/She should include a reasoning for their findings and cite to the specific evidence that supports them. All evidence is attached to the findings memo as an enclosure. A good 15-6 report explains why the IO believes some evidence over other evidence, instead of just choosing to believe one piece of evidence that contradicts another, without any explanation.
The IO then should have his/her legal advisor review his findings. After the legal advisor approves, the IO signs his/her findings memorandum and presents the complete packet to the Appointing Authority. The Appointing Authority ensures that a legal review is conducted by his/her legal officer. Additionally, Field Grade Officers will have the chance to respond to any adverse findings made against them. 15-6 Investigation Rebuttals are explained more at this link. Consultation with a lawyer is advisable before responding to any adverse findings.
At this point, the investigation is complete and the Command now decides what action, if any, they are going to take. This could include anything from no action taken against anyone to a Court-Martial. This decision is completely within the Command's discretion, with a couple of exceptions.
There is a lot of confirmation bias with a 15-6 Investigation. It is rare for an investigating officer to conduct an investigation and not substantiate the allegations they were appointed to investigate. IOs are usually inexperienced, often never having conducted an investigation before. Once an Officer/NCO/Soldier has a negative finding against them as part of a 15-6, they should expect some form of adverse action to be taken.
For all of these reasons, any Soldier that is questioned as part of a 15-6 should consult with a lawyer before answering any questions. Doing so could save the Soldier's career.
This Article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry