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What is a Court-Martial?

A court martial is a military criminal trial. The purpose of a court martial is to determine whether a military member accused of committing a military crime is guilty.

If a defendant is convicted at a court martial, possible punishments include prison, loss of rank, forfeiture of pay, and a dishonorable discharge. In almost all cases, the prosecution will seek jail time and a discharge from the military. A court martial conviction is a federal criminal conviction and has lifelong consequences, including making it difficult to secure employment and housing. If convicted of a sexual crime, you may be required to register as a sex offender for life.

At both special courts-martial and general courts-martial, you can hire civilian defense counsel to represent you without forfeiting your right to have a military defense counsel assigned to represent you as well.

A general court-martial is a felony conviction which would prevent you from owning a firearm.

A court martial is very serious and it is extremely important to have an attorney who is experienced, dedicated, and aggressive in advocating for your rights. There are 3 types of courts martial and they each have different procedures and possible punishments.

What is a Summary Court-Martial?

A summary court-martial is akin to a formal NJP proceeding. There is no prosecutor and like an NJP, you must agree to it. The “judge” is generally not a lawyer. Any commissioned officer can perform a summary court-martial and the commissioned officer is usually O-3 or above. A summary court-martial is designed to adjudicate “minor offenses” like those at NJP. Only enlisted service members can be tried by summary court-martial. A summary court-martial cannot hear cases involving commissioned officers, or cadets or midshipmen at service academies.

A discharge is not possible at a summary court-martial; you cannot receive a bad-conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge. However, a summary court-martial may sentence you to confinement up to one month, hard labor without confinement for up to 45 days, restriction to specified limits for up to 2 months, and forfeiture of up to two-thirds of one month’s pay. Enlisted service members above the pay grade of E-4 may not be sentenced to confinement, hard labor without confinement, or reduction in pay grade beyond one pay grade.

You DO NOT have the right to a military defense counsel at a summary court-martial. However, you can be represented by civilian defense counsel as long as such representation will not unreasonably delay the proceedings.

What is a Special Court-Martial?

A military judge presides over a special court-martial. The Government is represented by a prosecutor or “trial counsel,” and you have the right to military defense counsel at no expense.

There are two types of special court-martial. The first is authorized by Article 16(c)(2)(a) which allows a special court-martial convening authority to refer charges to a special court-martial consisting of a military judge alone. Unlike when the charges are tried at a standard special court-martial, the service member cannot choose to be tried by a panel of military members instead of the military judge. Unlike with NJP or summary courts-martial, a service member cannot refuse trial in this new type.

This new type of special court-martial also limits the sentence that can be awarded. The military judge cannot award a sentence of more than six months confinement or more than six months forfeiture of pay, and cannot award a bad-conduct discharge. This type of court-martial is meant for handling lower-level cases, such as NJP-refusals, more quickly and without the need for a commander to provide members.

The second type of special court-martial is akin to a misdemeanor trial in the civilian sector. Unlike the judge alone special court-martial, you have the right to a jury trial in this type of special court-martial. Most commonly, a special court-martial will consist of a military judge, prosecutor (called “trial counsel”), defense counsel and a minimum of four officers sitting as a panel of court members (aka the “jury”). An enlisted accused may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted members on the jury.

What is a General Court-Martial?

A general court martial is the most serious proceeding in military court. It is akin to a felony trial in civilian court. Any punishment not prohibited by the UCMJ can be instilled, including dishonorable discharge or even the death penalty in very rare cases. 

Because of the seriousness of this kind of proceeding, is very important to have a lawyer well-versed in the military justice system and civilian criminal defense. 

To schedule a free, no obligation consultation with our lawyer, please get in touch with us today.

Court-Martial: Practices
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