The one and only true answer is, it depends. It depends on whether this is a Summary Court-Martial, a Special Court-Martial or a General Court-Martial. The one commonality in the timeline of Special Court-Martial Cases and General Court-Martial Cases is the investigation. Often times, when a cases starts, the investigation will take up the longest amount of time. Generally, the charging authority (the individual who can charge a service member with a crime) will not know what level of Court-Martial to dispose a case at. The investigation has to run its course before a decision at which level a court-martial will adjudicate the overall outcome of the case.
"The function of a summary court–martial is to exercise justice promptly for relatively minor offenses under a simple form of procedure. The summary court–martial will thoroughly and impartially inquire into both sides of the matter and will insure that the interests of both the Government and the accused are safeguarded," Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-7 paragraph 5(a). Summary courts-martial in a nutshell are a glorified Article 15/NJP. Generally speaking the maximum punishment for E-4 and below is 30 days confinement or 45 days hard labor or restriction to post for 2 months, reduction to the lowest grade and forfeiture of 2/3s pay for one month. E-5 and above have the following maximum punishments allowed: reduction to the next inferior grade, forfeiture of 2/3s pay for a month and restriction to post for 2 months.
Summary courts-martial move along fairly quickly because the charges pending in them generally are not egregious and it is composed of one commissioned officer, the summary court-martial officer, to impartially hear both sides of the case. Essentially this officer is judge, jury and executioner. Once the investigation is complete, the chain of command recommends that the charges be brought to a summary court-martial, and the summary court-martial officer is identified, the summary court-martial will probably be completed within a week's time of completion of the investigation. However, in many cases, deals are often cut to bring an offense down from General Courts-Martial or a Special Court-Martial to a Summary. That deal making process can take up to 60 days depending on the issues that are being wrestled with. Lastly, it is important to mention that you are not required to have a military defense counsel for a summary court-martial proceeding.
The next level is a special court-martial. A special court-martial "may try any person subject to the code for any noncapital offense made punishable by the code and, as provided in this rule, for capital offenses" (MCM, 2012). Meaning if you are being charged for instance, murder, your case will not be tried before a special court-martial.
As you can see, by the punishments that may be imposed by a summary and a special court-martial, the charges must meet the level of court to be referred to. Therefore, if the charges that you are facing a more egregious than those that would be referred to a summary court-martial you can expect that the entire process will at least take from 3 to 6 months.
Special Courts-Martial cases do tend to move a lot faster than a General Court-Martial because there is not Article 32 hearing. Additionally, the charges that are often referred to a Special Court-Martial are not nearly as serious as what you would see at a General Court-Martial. Additionally, something that may add on a little bit more time is if you elect for your case to be heard by a military panel, not less than three members, or judge alone.
The last level of a court-martial is general. Before charges can be referred to a general court-martial there must have been a thorough pre-trial investigation and pre-trial advice from the Staff Judge Advocate. General courts-martial can adjudge any punishment including dishonorable discharge and death, if specifically noted by the convening authority. Except in capital cases, general courts-martial shall consist of a military judge and not less than five members, or of the military judge alone if requested. Once again, each one of these steps takes time. If you are facing egregious charges such as rape, negligent homicide, or something towards that affect, you can expect that your court-martial process may take anywhere from at least six months to a year.
General Courts-Martial Timeline
Typically there is an allegation. After the allegation, an immediate investigation starts with one of the service specific special investigative agencies (OSI, NCIS, CID or CGIS). The investigation time depends on how serious the allegation is. Investigations can take a week or they can take 18 to 24 months. Our office has seen at least two particularly long investigations. One was 14 months long, and another was over 18 months long. The first case was a financial fraud case, and the second was sexual assault and child pornography. The allegations and evidence dictate the length of the investigation.
Once charges are preferred (reading of the charges), a date for the Article 32 hearing is set. The Article 32 is designed to investigate if there is enough evidence of an allegation to go forward to trial. The time frame between the reading of the charges and the Article 32 date is anywhere between ten days and several months depending on counsel's schedule.
Typically Article 32's are completed in a day, however the more serious the allegation, the longer an Article 32 investigative hearing will run. After the Article 32 hearing is conducted, a report is generated and sent to the Staff Judge Advocate's office and the Command. The Staff Judge Advocate will read the report, and make a written recommendation to the convening authority about what to do with the case. This process can take several months depending on how busy the legal office is. However, it usually takes only 2 to 4 weeks. If the convening authority elects trial by court-martial, then we move to the next phase.
The next stage is docketing. A conference is conducted between counsel and the judge to discuss the timeline of the trial. The date's for a motion hearing is set, and then the actual trial date is set. There are three stages here to discuss: arraignment, motions, and trial. The arraignment is where the service member elects his forum, enters his plea and names his motions. Most service members defer all pleas, forum and motions. Next is the motions date. Motions will decide issues of law regarding evidence. Motions will help decide what evidence is admissible. Last, is the trial itself. The time from the end of the Article 32 to the start date of the trial will be anywhere from 60 days to 6 months depending on the trial court docket and the quantity of issues that have to be resolved before a case actually goes to trial.
CONSULT A MILITARY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
I hope you find this article helpful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our office and we will provide you a free initial consultation and discuss recommendations on further representation. If you are charged with a crime under the UCMJ, the course of your life is subject to change depending on the outcome of the case. It is vital that you take these charges seriously. Call us at (866) 624-7503 and we will help you navigate the process.
[…] and availability of evidence, the entire process could take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years (Source). It will probably be longer when civilians are […]