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The Court Martial Process - What You Need to Know

A member of the military and any branch of the armed forces of the United States will be subject to a court martial if they are accused of committing a crime or a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Some criminal offenses that require court martialing are quite similar to civilian offenses, such as sex crimes or illegal drug use; others are specific to a life in the military, like deserting your post or leaving your command without approval from a higher ranking officer. No matter the specifics of the case and charges, it is useful for a military defendant to understand the courts martial process before it begins in order to better bolster their defense.

Three Types of Court Martialing

The court martial process is not a singular entity. Instead, it branches into three specific categories based on the severity alleged crimes or violations.

The three categories of court martialing are:

  1. Summary: No military judge or attorneys from the Judge Advocate General (JAG) will be present during a summary court martial procedure. Only a single commissioned officer will be called upon to review the facts of your case and make a ruling. Not even defense counsel will be there, unless it is specifically requested and privately retained. Penalties can vary from 30 days confinement to rank reduction. Due to the expedited process of summary hearings, they are reserved for the least serious of offenses, such as public intoxication off-base.
  2. Special: Serious criminal offenses or violations, like insubordination, will go through special court martialing, which is similar to a traditional criminal trial outside of military jurisdiction. Three service members will come to a conclusion after a military judge presides over the trial process. A sentencing could include discharge from the military.
  3. General: If a criminal act or violation is considered quite severe, such as murder, the offender will be tried through a general court martial procedure. Maximum penalties can be used by the presiding military judge, including capital punishment and life in prison without parole.

Review of Court Martial Process

The average court martial process starts with a commanding officer (CO) being told of a service member’s illegal or detestable behavior. The CO may then make the decision to have the charge preferred against the alleged offender. Depending on the situation, the CO may only threaten a court martialing but instead use military penalties to replace it, such as ordering the service member to clean the barracks or run several miles; this alternate form of punishment should not be expected.

As with a civilian criminal trial, a service member can enter pleas with the court after they are told their charges. With the help of a military criminal defense attorney, it may be possible for the accused to gain a beneficial plea bargain, essentially trading their cooperation for reduced penalties. If the case does go to trial, it can play out in a similar fashion to other criminal court cases, including opening statements, presenting evidence, cross-examinations, and so on, until it concludes with the court martial panel’s verdict and the judge’s sentencing.

Hiring Private Defense Counsel

Are you facing court martialing? Contact McCormack & McCormack as soon as you can! Military Criminal Defense Attorney Greg McCormack has been representing and protecting accused service members for more than 36 years, and he does so all around the world. Call today for a free initial consultation.