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What You Need to Know About Military Courts Martial

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are accused of a crime are generally brought before courts martial as opposed to civil courts. But what are these courts? What rights do military personnel have when prosecuted by the military?

Essentially, there are three kinds of courts martial: general, summary, and special. The United States Uniform Code of Military Justice lays out these three kinds of courts martial and the procedures and punishments associated with each. Regardless of the accusation, the court, or the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime, military personnel have the right to have the accusations proven beyond a reasonable doubt and are subject to the Military Rules of Evidence, which govern what kind of evidence is acceptable within a military court.

What is a General Court Martial?

A general court martial is the most serious kind of court martial, and is generally used in cases that would equate to felony severity in a civilian court. This court is the most formal, and consists of a military judge and at least five members, though a serviceman can request to be tried by the judge alone. Punishment in the general court martial can include death, but encompasses all punishments covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

What is a Special Court Martial?

The second degree of severity in a court martial is the special court martial, which is roughly equivalent to a misdemeanor-level civilian court. In a special court martial, a serviceman is tried by a military judge and at least three members, though a military judge alone can try the case upon the accused's request. The special court martial is prevented from prescribing the following punishments: death, dismissal, dishonorable discharge, labor without confinement, extreme forfeitures of pay, or jail time exceeding one year in length.

What is a Summary Court Martial?

The summary court martial is the least severe form of court martial and consists of a commissioned officer instead of a military judge. This court is limited to light offenses and cannot punish a serviceman with extreme punishment, though they may reduce a guilty person's pay to E-1 status or recommend imprisonment for up to one month.

Courts Martial Appeals

If you are convicted of a crime in a court martial, your rights differ significantly from those available to a civilian. While you do have the legal right to appeal your courts martial conviction, the form and process of appeal is far different from those available in civil court.

The primary difference between a civil and a military appeal is that in courts martial, the case cannot be retried. Rather, the case can be re-evaluated and reviewed for errors, including errors of sentencing, fact, and trial procedure. Once this review is complete, the military judge has the option to refer your case to a criminal appeals court or even to the United States Supreme Court for review. However, review is only available if you have a certain sentence. Only sentences of dishonorable or bad-conduct discharges, death, confinement, or loss of officer status can be brought forward for review by the court of criminal appeals in your branch of the military.

Due to the severity of the potential sentences and the complexity of getting a case before the criminal court, it is vital that people wishing to undertake a courts martial appeal seek the proper help before they appeal. There's only one shot to get an appeal right, and the appellate process can be confusing, complicated, and time-consuming. That's why it's so important to arm yourself with the best weapon available to a member of the military facing confinement or another serious sentence – a military lawyer who is ready, willing, and able to completely defend you and properly carry out your military appeal.

Contact An Attorney with Military Experience

Because military courts are so different from civilian courts, it is vital that an accused party consider representation by an experienced Long Beach military attorney. The right attorney in a military court can help protect your career, keep you out of jail, and keep you in good standing with the Armed Forces. Have you been accused of a crime? Are you facing a court martial? Contact Joseph H. Low IV at (562) 901-0840 or (888) 454-5569 for more information and a free case consultation.

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