The military has three kinds of courts martials: summary, special, and general. Summary court martial is for minor offenses and does not involve a judge. Special court martial is more like a civilian criminal trial and occurs when a more severe charge has been leveled. The most severe crimes that invoke maximum punishments, such as death, life imprisonment, or dishonorable discharge, are tried in general court-martial.
Steps in a Court Martial
Regardless of the type of court-martial you have found yourself facing, it is important to know that though they generally follow civilian procedure, there are some unique differences.
The court-martial process will include the following steps:
- Commanding officer confines and informs a service-member of the accusation.
- Court martial convenes no later than 120 days following the arrest.
- The accused is read the charges in front of their commanding officer and a third party.
- A judge is assigned to the case and legal representation is appointed.
- Evidence and witnesses are reviewed and investigated.
- The accused enters their plea. If they plead guilty, they are sentenced.
- A panel of military officers is assembled to hear the facts of the case.
- Evidence and witnesses are presented.
- Panel issues a decision.
- Judge issues sentencing.
If the service-member is convicted, the penalties will vary based on the type of crime committed and the type of court-martial they are facing. No matter what, a service-member should do all they can to avoid being found guilty in a court-martial. While everyone is entitled to legal representation when they have been accused of a crime, it will be in the best interests of the accused to retain a trusted private court-martial defense attorney for their case.