US military serviceman saluting  flag in the back

Know the Types of Court Martial Law

Did you know that the military has its own system of criminal trial? It is carried out by the United States military via courts-martial to examine members of the armed forces who have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ. As is the case with civilian trials, there is a military attorney to represent both parties – the government and the person standing trial.

Are you facing a courts-martial or think you might be in a position to face one soon? Then you need to know the 3 different types of courts-martial in existence. We’ll summarize below, so keep reading.

Summary Court-Martial

The simples of procedures we’ll talk about today, summary courts-martial are called to review fairly minor accusations against members of the armed forces. They are typically headed by an officer. This officer might be a lawyer, and they might not be. Access to free legal representation is not always guaranteed, and the accused can hire a civilian attorney if they’d like to do so.

In a summary courts-martial, the accused can cross-examine a witness, call a witness, provide evidence to defend themselves, and make the choice of either testifying or remaining silent.

Punishments for a guilty charge in this type of situation are commonly mild – maybe 30 days or so. You may also have your pay docked.

Special Court-Martial

These are a bit more intense than summary court-martial. In this case, misdemeanor and other specific cases (such as going AWOL) are tried. The accused has the ability to chose if they would like to be heard by

  1. a military judge
  2. a military judge PLUS a 3-member panel
  3. a 3-member panel

Remember when I said this can be more intense? That’s largely because the stakes are higher. You can be sentenced to a confinement of up to one year or 3 months of hard labor without confinement.

General Court-Martial

Only the most serious offenses fall into this category (for example, a felony charge). Because of the serious nature of a general court-martial, there is a pre-trial hearing (Article 32) before the trial begins. The purpose of Article 32 is to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to support an accusation against someone facing general court-martial.

If found guilty, any sentence can be given – including death. So it’s important to retain an experienced military courts-martial attorney in this type of situation.

If you are a member of the military and facing court-martial, it’s obviously important to understand the types of court-martial so that you know what you are up against when it comes to defending yourself. We hope this has helped.