Court martial is the equivalent of a criminal trial for members of the military facing charges such as conspiracy, espionage, manslaughter, or robbery, as outlined in the “Punitive Articles” section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Some crimes are similar to those that civilians can be charged with, while others are specific to the military.
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.