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The Differences between the 3 Types of Military Court-Martial

By Joseph Low on January 2, 2013

The military judicial system, though still part of the federal government, has a procedure of its own in order to handle the unique circumstances under which crimes may have been committed in the course of military duty. When a military service member is accused of committing a crime, they may be subjected to one of three types of military court-marital to determine their innocence or guilt and to receive punishment. These three types are:

  1. Summary Courts-Martial
  2. Special Courts-Martial
  3. General Courts-Martial

The type of offense generally determines the type of court-martial and possible punishments.

Summary courts-martial are held for minor offenses allegedly committed by enlisted service members. A summary court-martial is held by one commissioned officer who does not necessarily need to be a lawyer and accused service members are usually not entitled to legal representation. If they do not consent to trial by summary court-martial, however, trial by special or general court-martial may be ordered. The maximum punishments that may be ordered as the result of a summary court-martial are 30 days of confinement, restriction to specified limits for 45 days, hard labor without confinement for 45 days, reduction to the lowest pay grade, and deduction of two-thirds pay per month for one month.

Special courts-martial are held to try a service member for any non-capital offense or capital offenses, under presidential regulation. Offenses typically tried by a special court-martial are considered misdemeanors. Special courts-martial proceedings may be presided over by a military judge alone, a panel of at least three members, or a judge and at least three members. The accused has the right to choose which. Two-thirds of the members must agree for a guilty verdict; if they don’t, the accused is acquitted. The maximum punishments ordered in special courts-martial are one year of confinement, loss of two-thirds pay every month for a year, hard labor without confinement for three months, pay grade reduction, and bad conduct discharge. The accused has the right to an attorney.

Finally, general courts-martial are used for the most serious offenses and are considered the highest trial level in military law. It includes a military judge alone, or a military judge and at least five members. An accused service member recommended to a general court-martial has the right to legal representation. The punishments ordered in a general court-martial vary by the offense, but may include reprimand, confinement, punitive discharge, fines, and possibly even death.

Facing a court-martial is a serious matter, but with the help of an experienced California military defense attorney, you can avoid unjust prosecution and/or excessive punishment. As a former Marine, military defense attorney Joseph H. Low IV understands what is at stake and is committed to defending your rights and your future.

Posted in: Military Defense

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