Before a Commanding General can refer charges to a General Court-Martial, a thorough and impartial investigation into the basis for the charges must be conducted. This inquiry is called a preliminary hearing or an Article 32 hearing, and it has three main purposes:
Beyond the stated purpose of the UCMJ Article 32 hearing, it also offers the accused a powerful discovery tool into the government’s case and provides defense counsel access to investigative files, as well as an opportunity to cross-examine important government witnesses, such as the alleged victim(s) or investigators.
Upon conclusion of the Article 32 hearing, the hearing officer drafts a report for the Commanding Officer/General who ordered the investigation. The Article 32 report is advisory in nature; accordingly, the Commanding General may favorably endorse the investigating officer’s opinion as to disposition, or reject the advisory opinion and refer charges at his own discretion.