Trials by courts-martial are military courts that dispose of serious offenses for service members. In many ways, court martial hearings are similar to civilian criminal hearings, but there are also many differences.
Because juries are comprised of the defendant's peers, military court martial cases do have juries, but these juries are comprised of commissioned officers or other enlisted persons. Another difference is that it is not referred to as a "jury" in court martial cases, but as a "court member panel." If you are facing a courts martial, you have the right to choose trial by officer panel, by enlisted panel or by Judge alone. Even if you choose enlisted panel, that panel may be composed up to 1/3 of officers.
There are three types of courts-martial: summary, special, and general. Summary Courts Martials do not have panels. It is presided over by one officer. That officer has the power to call witnesses, hear evidence, decide on evidentiary matters, render a verdict and impose a sentence.
Special Courts Martials are generally composed of panels, however, as with a general courts martial, the accused has the opportunity to go judge alone if he/she so chooses. A special courts martial is required to have no less than 3 panel members. In general court martial cases, there must be at least five members of the jury. Some military juries can have more than a dozen members.
The UCMJ does allow for a jury selection process called Voir Dire, whereby the Judge, and counsel for the prosecution and the defense can question panel members to root out bias and ensure that they will judge and decide the case fairly. Mr. Jordan has seen a military panel pool have as many as 18 members to start with and as little as 10. It is up to each military jurisdiction to set up their selection process for members to serve on a military panel for courts martial.
The Commanding General for unit that governs jurisdiction over the accused selects who will sit on the panel prior to voir dire. Many Army jurisdictions have standing panels that sit for at least 6 months, before a new panel is selected to serve by the Commanding General. However, the Air Force seems to prefer to select new panels for each trial.
Another difference between civilian juries and court member panels is that a unanimous vote is not required. In court martial cases, a vote of two-thirds is all that is required to find a service member guilty of an offense.
To learn more about the court martial process and how Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law can help you, call (866) 624-7503 to discuss your defense today.