A member of the military and any branch of the armed forces of the United
States will be subject to a
court martial if they are accused of committing a crime or a serious violation of the
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Some criminal offenses that require
court martialing are quite similar to civilian offenses, such as
sex crimes or
illegal drug use; others are specific to a life in the military, like
deserting your post or
leaving your command without approval from a higher ranking officer. No matter the specifics
of the case and charges, it is useful for a military defendant to understand
the courts martial process before it begins in order to better bolster
Three Types of Court Martialing
The court martial process is not a singular entity. Instead, it branches
into three specific categories based on the severity alleged crimes or
The three categories of court martialing are:
Summary: No military judge or attorneys from the Judge Advocate General (JAG) will
be present during a summary court martial procedure. Only a single commissioned
officer will be called upon to review the facts of your case and make
a ruling. Not even defense counsel will be there, unless it is specifically
requested and privately retained. Penalties can vary from 30 days confinement
to rank reduction. Due to the expedited process of summary hearings, they
are reserved for the least serious of offenses, such as
public intoxication off-base.
Special: Serious criminal offenses or violations, like insubordination, will go
through special court martialing, which is similar to a traditional criminal
trial outside of military jurisdiction. Three service members will come
to a conclusion after a military judge presides over the trial process.
A sentencing could include discharge from the military.
General: If a criminal act or violation is considered quite severe, such as
murder, the offender will be tried through a general court martial procedure.
Maximum penalties can be used by the presiding military judge, including
capital punishment and life in prison without parole.
Review of Court Martial Process
The average court martial process starts with a commanding officer (CO)
being told of a service member’s illegal or detestable behavior.
The CO may then make the decision to have the charge preferred against
the alleged offender. Depending on the situation, the CO may only threaten
a court martialing but instead use military penalties to replace it, such
as ordering the service member to clean the barracks or run several miles;
this alternate form of punishment should not be expected.
As with a civilian criminal trial, a service member can enter pleas with
the court after they are told their charges. With the help of a military
criminal defense attorney, it may be possible for the accused to gain
a beneficial plea bargain, essentially trading their cooperation for reduced
penalties. If the case does go to trial, it can play out in a similar
fashion to other criminal court cases, including opening statements, presenting
evidence, cross-examinations, and so on, until it concludes with the court
martial panel’s verdict and the judge’s sentencing.
Hiring Private Defense Counsel
Are you facing court martialing?
Contact McCormack & McCormack as soon as you can! Military Criminal Defense
Attorney Greg McCormack has been representing and protecting accused service
members for more than
36 years, and he does so all around the world. Call
888.718.5899 today for a
free initial consultation.
by Greg McCormack