What Is a Court-Martial?

How Courts-Martials Work

Armed forces members who are accused of serious military crimes go through what is called a court-martial, which refers to both the military court and its legal proceedings. The purpose of a court-martial is to determine whether a military member is innocent or guilty of a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the foundation for the military legal system. If the defendant is found guilty, they will be punished according to the provisions in the UCMJ.

Court-martial is not a civilian or criminal court. Since it is a part of military law, court-martial is responsible for handling all legal proceedings for military members. Among the most common crimes addressed in court-martial proceedings are:

  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • DWI
  • Drug crimes
  • Fraternization
  • Fraud
  • Unauthorized absence
  • Desertion

Types of Military Courts-Martial

Military offenses are not always tried by court-martial, however. Court-martial is often reserved for the most serious military offenses, while other violations warrant no action, administrative action, or nonjudicial punishment instead. If an offense is tried by court-martial, the commander may choose from 3 potential levels, which include:

Summary court-martial: The least serious court-martial, a summary court-martial handles minor offenses where only enlisted soldiers are tried. If you are facing a summary court-martial, you have no right to counsel but may hire a private attorney to represent you. A single officer will oversee the hearing and at the end, you will get penalized under the UCMJ. Keep in mind that penalties administered in special courts-martial are far less severe than those imposed in special and general courts-martial.

Special court-martial: This court handles more serious charges that are penalized by up to 1 year of confinement and 6 months of reduced pay. An intermediate-level court, a special court-martial consists of either a military judge or a minimum of three members and a judge. The trial counsel, also known as a prosecutor, and defense counsel will also be at the hearing. You may request that at least one-third of the court be enlisted if you think it will help your case. Not to mention, you can choose to be represented by either civilian counsel or by an individually requested military counsel.

General court-martial: The most serious military offenses that carry the harshest punishments are tried by general court-martial. Before any charge goes to a general court-martial, an Article 32 investigation must be conducted and an Article 32 officer will make a recommendation on the disposition of those charges thereafter. A general court-martial consists of either a military judge and at least five members, or a military judge only. You may choose a trial by solely a judge unless you’re facing capital charges, and may request a minimum of one-third enlisted membership.

Serving Those Who Serve Us

If you are accused of a military offense in Plano, Texas, we invite you to reach out to our military criminal attorney right away. We are invested in your best interests and protecting your rights, whether you serve in the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. Should you need to appeal a conviction or believe your sentence didn’t fit the alleged offense, let us know.

To get started, schedule your consultation online or at 888-4-ZEN-LAW!

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