What is the Court-Martial Process?

Typically, when someone commits a crime and gets caught, a police officer will charge them and they will be required to attend court where they will choose to either plead guilty or have their attorney defend them so a judge will give them a lesser charge or walk away not-guilty. The same is not quite true when it comes to the court-martial process, however. For a member of the military, a court-martial is a criminal trial where the accused faces a jury of his peers and faces potential civilian and military punishments. While there are similar processes for crimes such as larceny or assault, there are other crimes that are more specific to the military, including mutiny or desertion. If you are a member of the military or one of your loved ones is a member of the military and you would like to know more about the court-martial process, please reach out to a military attorney at Camp Pendleton, like one from The Federal Practice Group, for more information or to set up a consultation.

What is the UCMJ?

Congress established the Uniform Code of Military Justice which is a law that outlines the military justice system and discusses the different criminal offenses that a member of the military commits. When a member of the military violates the UCMJ—from any branch of service—it is possible they will endure a court-martial. Who is under the UCMJ?

  • Members of the National Guard
  • Members of the Active Component
  • Members of the Reserve Component
  • Retired Members of the Reserve Component
  • Retired Members of the Active Component, and more

What are the different types of courts-martial?

When it comes to the justice system, there are three different types of courts-martial.

1. Summary Courts-Martial. When a service member is facing a minor offense charge, they will likely go to a summary court-martial because the procedure is much quicker. In this type of proceeding, a commissioned officer will typically examine the facts of the case and, if the service member is found guilty, will face several different punishments including, one month of reduced pay, a reduction in rank, or a maximum of 30 days of confinement.

2. Special CourtsMartial. The special court-martial is much more like the civilian criminal trial, and it is used in circumstances that involve more serious offenses than a summary courts-martial. In a special court-martial, there will be a military judge and a panel of three service members that can act as the jury. Some penalties include a bad-conduct discharge, one year of confinement, and forfeiture of six months of pay.

3. General Courts-Martial. When a member of the military has committed a more severe crime, they will have to go through a general court-martial. This, too, has a military judge and a jury of service members, between 5 and 10, depending on the severity of the case. In a general court-martial, the maximum sentences could be life in prison, dishonorable discharge, and death.

If you have any more questions regarding the proceedings of a court-martial, or if you would like to speak with a military defense attorney, please contact a law firm now.

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