One of the more harrowing moments a servicemember can face during his or her military career is a court-martial. Knowing the basics of how courts-martial work can be helpful in reducing the stress of going through the process. Below are the basics to prepare for what may lie ahead in the face of formal military discipline.
Types of Courts-Martial
There are three types of courts-martial: Summary Courts-Martial, Special Courts-Martial, and General Courts-Martial.
Summary Courts-Martial are used to handle minor offenses committed by enlisted personnel only. They are handled by a commissioned officer who does not have to be a lawyer.
Special Courts-Martial are for all service personnel and are used for what would be considered misdemeanors in the civilian world. They can be overseen by a military judge alone, a panel of not less than three people referred to as “members,” or both.
General Courts-Martial are also for all service personnel and are generally convened for what would be considered felonies in the civilian world. They can be overseen by a military judge alone, a panel of not less than five members, or both.
Types of Punishments
The potential punishment depends on the type of court-martial being convened.
In Summary Courts-Martial, the maximum punishment can include 30 days confinement, 45 days hard labor without confinement, 45 days of restrictions decided by the overseeing commissioned officer, loss of two-thirds pay for one month, and/or a reduction to a lower pay grade. If you are above an E-4 in pay grade, you cannot receive confinement or hard labor; you can only be reduced to the next lowest pay grade.
In Special Courts-Martial, the maximum punishment can include confinement up to one year, up to three months of hard labor without confinement, loss of two-thirds pay for up to one year, a reduction in pay grade, and/or a bad-conduct discharge.
In General Courts-Martial, service members face a wide range of punishments, including confinement, reprimand, loss of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, a punitive discharge (bad-conduct discharge, dishonorable discharge, or dismissal), restrictions, fines, and, in some cases, capital punishment. The final punishment is determined at the discretion of the presiding authority.
Your Rights in a Court-Martial
Fortunately, the rights of an accused servicemember in a court-martial nearly mirror the rights provided in civilian courts. The accused has the rights to compel attendance of witnesses, avoid self-incrimination, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, against unreasonable searches and seizures, to have a speedy trial, and against double jeopardy and ex post facto crimes. Just as in civilian courts, the guilt of the individual has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before he or she can be found guilty.
Servicemembers are guaranteed a right to counsel in Special Courts-Martial and General Courts-Martial (but usually not in Summary Courts-Martial). A military attorney will be appointed (or chosen by the defense) or a privately-hired civilian attorney can be hired at the individual’s own expense. The decision of who will represent you in your court-martial is important and choosing an experienced attorney can be very beneficial to achieving the best possible outcome.
Protect Your Rights, Protect Your Future
If you are facing a court-martial and are looking for attorneys with experience defending servicemembers, Contact Berry Law Firmto speak with our attorneys and discuss your options. Many of our criminal defense attorneys served in the military and understand the UCMJ from the perspective of both a military lawyer and as a commander.