Court Martial – Types & Procedures

What is a Court Martial?

A court martial is actually a criminal trial. It applies only to members of the military force if they are accused of perpetrating any crime mentioned in the ‘Punitive Articles’ section of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Some of these listed crimes – for example, arson, larceny, conspiracy or manslaughter – are no different from civilian crimes. The rests – for example, mutiny, insubordination and desertion – are specific only to the military.

A potential court martial is for any service member, who is accused of violating the UCMJ, irrespective of his/her branch of service. The UCMJ is particularly applicable to:

  • Members of the regular active force
  • Members of the National Guard (when they are in federal service)
  • Members of the reserve force when on annual training or inactive duty
  • Midshipmen, aviation cadets and cadets
  • Retired member of a reserve force getting hospitalization from an armed force
  • Retired members of a regular force having right to pay
  • Persons taken in the custody of an armed force serving sentence after a court martial
  • Members of the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve and Fleet Reserve
  • Members of the Public Health Services, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations serving with any armed force

The guidelines to run the courts-martial are explicitly mentioned in the Manual for Courts-Martial issued by the USA President.

Different Types of Court Martial

Court-martial is mainly of three types:

General Courts-Martial

The general courts-martial are reserved for more serious offences. The general courts-martial procedure feature a military judge and legal help representing both parties. There are at least 10 members in a panel for capital offenses and at least 5 members in a panel for non-capital offenses. The panel is formed for facts checking if a judge receives no request from the accused member to do so (and the persecution has its eye not set on the death penalty). The military judge appointed to preside over the general courts-martial may give a verdict in favor of the maximum sentence allowed in the MCM or UCMJ and it includes dishonorable discharge, lifer or death.

Special Courts-Martial

Most severe offenses come under the purview of the special courts-martial. It is just like a civilian criminal trial characterized by particular times for discovery, trial and pre-trial motions and finally, sentencing. A military judge is appointed for presiding over the special courts-martial. A trial lawyer is appointed to represent the prosecution. A panel comprising three service members checks the facts unless a judge is requested by the accused to do so. In the special courts-martial cases, the maximum penalties assigned to the accused include a poor-conduct discharge, hard labors for three months, pay forfeiture for six months and confinement for one year.

Summary Courts-Martial

These are the fastest procedures of all types of courts-martial cases. A summary court-martial is used for the listed members of the service, who are accused of petty offenses. The procedure does not require any military judge or a lawyer from the Judge Advocate General office. A commissioned officer reviews all the available facts, legal patterns and guidelines for sentencing before giving a verdict. If charge against the accused is proved, the service member may receive a sentence of one month salary deduction, restriction to a specific area for 60 days, hard labor for 45 days or 30 days’ confinement.

Contact a court martial lawyer if any of your close relatives or friends working for the military forces has been accused of any criminal offense.