In the military, a court-martial is a trial for those armed services members who are accused of committing one or more of the crimes listed in the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s (UCMJ) punitive articles section. These include crimes that resemble civilian crimes such as:
Or crimes that are unique to the military including:
It does not matter what branch of the service you belong if you are in violation of the UCMJ you may be at risk of being court-martialed. The rules of the UCMJ extends to:
- Active armed service members
- Reservists while on duty weekends or at annual training
- National Guard members when involved in federal service
- Midshipmen, aviation cadets, and cadets
- Retired military who receive pay
- Retired military reserve who receive hospital benefits from the military
- Anyone in military custody serving a sentence as a result of a court-martial
Is There More Than One Type of Court-Martial?
There are three different court-martial charges:
- Summary Courts-Martial — If you are in the military and charged with a minor offense, you will be prosecuted using the summary court-martial proceedings. This process works without a military judge or even government-assigned military attorneys. A commissioned officer looks at the facts of the case, researches legal precedent and guidelines for sentencing, and then makes a decision. If you are found to be guilty in the summary court-martial, you could be sentenced to up to a month of confinement, hard labor for 45 days, a reduction in your pay for 30 days, confined to a certain area for two months, or even have your rank reduced. In this type of court-martial proceedings, the military does not provide a military attorney free-of-charge to help in your defense.
- Special Courts-Martial — If the offense you are charged with is more serious, you will be judged in the special courts-martial. It works just like a civilian criminal trial, with the same procedures used in discovery, motions before the trial, trial and the sentencing portion of the trial. Presiding over the special court-martial is a military judge. The defendant will sometimes be assigned a defense attorney and the prosecution uses a trial lawyer. Three military members form a panel to present the facts of the case. The defendant can ask that the judge present the facts instead of the panel. Maximum penalties doled out in special courts-martial may involve a year of confinement, no pay for six months, hard labor for three months, or even be discharged for bad conduct.
- General Courts-Martial — This court is reserved for the most serious offenses. It is run similar to the special courts-martial except the panel is larger — 5 members if it is a non-capital offense and at least ten-panel members for capital offenses. A military judge imposes the sentence. The maximum sentences that the UCMJ allows maybe life in prison, dishonorable discharge, or death.
If you are faced with the possibility of being court-martialed, consider seeking the counsel of an experienced military defense lawyer at Fort Hood, such as one from The Federal Practice Group. They can represent you in addition to the government-appointed military attorney.