West Point Honor InvestigationMarch 21, 2022
West Point Honor Investigation
The West Point Honor Code states: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do." This code is taken very seriously at the academy. Substantiated violations usually result in separation. There have been a few high profile violations and widespread honor scandals in West Point's history (Click to review the 1951 scandal or the 1976 scandal).
The code is rather simple to apply. The majority of violations are for cheating on exams or lying about a Cadet's conduct. The most confusing part of the code is the "tolerate those who do" provision. What this means is that if a Cadet becomes aware of another Cadet's honor code violation, he/she has an obligation to report it. If the Cadet who learns of the violation doesn't report it, he/she has violated the Honor Code despite not lying, cheating, or stealing. This often places Cadets in precarious situations; however, the Honor Code is strictly enforced and unforgiving.
West Point has an internal system, governed by USCC PAM 15-1 (not publicly available), to deal with suspected Honor Code violations. There are upper class Cadets who serve in permanent positions to manage violations. For example, there is a Senior Cadet (Firstie) who has the title "Honor Captain." If a Cadet is suspected of violating the Honor Code, the first step in a West Point Honor Investigation is an "approach for clarification." Contrary to common opinion, an "approach for clarification" is not a required step; however, it is recommended. Done properly, someone who suspects a Cadet of violating the Honor Code will confront the Cadet, read him/her their Article 31 rights, and ask the Cadet to provide additional information. Sometimes after this "approach for clarification," the accuser is satisfied, and no further action is taken. However, if that is not the case, a suspected violation must be reported to the Cadet Honor Committee.
After an "approach for clarification" where the accuser still suspects a Cadet, or if an "approach for clarification" is not needed because of an obvious violation (very subjective), the Honor Committee will conduct an Honor Investigation. A West Point Honor Investigation is typically run by two Cadets who serve in Honor Positions within the Corps of Cadets (i.e. Company Honor Representatives). Cadet Honor Investigators will interview all people involved with the allegation as well as collect any other evidence (i.e. SafeAssign Reports, emails, text messages, assignments, etc.). Furthermore, the Investigators will sit down with the Cadet accused, read him/her their rights, and offer him/her the chance to answer questions.
Once complete, the investigators make findings and recommendations. The Honor Committee has the authority to drop the case at this point. If the Honor Committee does not drop the case, it gets sent for legal review and then to the Commandant. The Commandant can either drop the case or refer it back to the Honor Committee for a Preliminary Hearing, the next step in a West Point Honor Investigation.
The Preliminary Hearing is a rather quick proceeding, where the Cadet is given the opportunity to admit or continue to contest the allegation. The Cadet also has to present the Preliminary Hearing Officer with all evidence that he/she intends to admit as well as all witnesses that he/she intends to call at the Honor Investigative Hearing (i.e. fact witnesses or specific character witnesses) and Cadet Advisory Board (i.e. character witnesses).
After the Preliminary Hearing, if the Cadet admits to the allegation, a Cadet Advisory Board (CAB) is scheduled. If the Cadet does not admit to the allegation, then an Honor Investigative Hearing (HIH) is scheduled. The HIH is basically a mini trial. Unfortunately, a Cadet has to represent him/herself at the Hearing; however, his/her lawyer can be physically present if requested. An Honor Representative is on the other side of the case, and advocates for the Honor Investigation's conclusions. The Cadet gets to question and challenge the board members (ensure they are unbiased), make an opening statement, question the Honor Investigation's witnesses, present Defense witnesses and evidence, testify under oath, and a make closing statement. The HIH then deliberates outside of the Cadet's presence and makes a determination on whether or not the allegation is founded. If unfounded, then the entire West Point Honor Investigation process is over. If the allegation is founded, the Board transitions immediately into the CAB.
At the CAB, the Cadet has the opportunity to present character evidence as well as evidence relating to the Cadet's performance at West Point. The CAB will make a recommendation regarding the Cadet's punishment, in addition to enrollment in the SLDP-H mentorship program (mandatory for any founded violation). The following recommendations could be made:
- Remain with class
- December graduation with the current class (6 month turn-back)
- Turn back to the next lower class (1 year turn-back)
- Academy Mentorship Program (AMP)
The CAB's recommendation is then routed through the Cadet's chain of command for review. After each member of the chain of command makes a recommendation, the Cadet has a meeting with the Commandant to discuss the violation and all recommendations. The Commandant then makes a recommendation, which the Cadet gets to review and make one final statement. The entire casefile is then sent to the Superintendent for final action. The Superintendent can take any action listed above.
Any Cadet who is facing a West Point Honor Investigation has a lot to lose and should take any allegation very seriously. Consultation with an experienced military lawyer is highly recommended. Proper legal representation at any point during the process, even during the investigation, can make all the difference. Even though a lawyer cannot advocate at an HIH or CAB, he/she can prepare the Cadet with witness questions, arguments, and general trial preparation (i.e. what evidence to present, how to testify), as well as be physically present during the hearing to assist. Given the possible consequences, including separation and having to pay back a substantial amount of money to the Federal Government (recoupment), proper legal representation is recommended.
This Article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry, a 2008 West Point Graduate