WHAT IS A COURT MARTIAL?
February 18, 2014
Members of the armed forces are subject to the UCMJ, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as state courts. If a member of the military has violated any part of the code, a court martial can, and often times will, be convened. The type of court martial will be determined by the severity of the offense. For the most minor violations, a summary court martial will be convened. The penalty imposed upon you will be determined by a commissioned officer who acts as judge. The military will generally not provide you with a defense attorney, but you can retain your own. The Air Force is the only service that treats Summary Courts Martials as a type of misdemeanor court. Attorneys are allowed to appear, call witnesses and make arguments in front of the hearing officer. The rules for Court Martial and the military rules of evidence typically apply during an Air Force Summary Court Martial.
For misdemeanor crimes, a special court martial is convened. This form of court martial involves a military judge, as well as at least three members of the panel. If the defendant requests it, a trial by judge alone can take place. All members of the military can be tried in a special court martial, including officers and midshipmen. The Rules for Courts Martial and the Military Rules of Evidence apply. Unless requested, an Article 32 hearing will not occur prior the convening of a special court martial. The penalties imposed can be significant, but are restricted to no more than one year in confinement, and no more than three months of hard labor, and no more than 2/3 of pay forfeited, and for no longer than one year.
For felony offenses, a general court martial will be convened. This form of court martial involves a military judge, not less than five members. The penalties imposed are far more serious and in some cases, can include the death penalty. These cases involved what is termed an Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding, in which it will be determined if there is sufficient evidence to convene the general court martial. In an Article 32 investigation, the accused can call witnesses, and has the right to cross examine the prosecution witnesses. Avoiding a general court martial will require a great deal of legal skill in this initial hearing, and even if you are completely innocent, it is advised that you are represented by a seasoned military criminal defense lawyer throughout every point in the process.
Contact Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law for more information about court martial defense, worldwide.