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Three types of military court-martial

Members of the military are well aware they must obey military law and procedure. Training emphasizes zero tolerance for infractions. Consequences could result in mild to severe punishment, such as pay forfeiture, extra duty, brief correctional confinement, significant fines, reduction in rank, confinement ranging from a few months to years, a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge.

Military personnel is aware of sanctions and, in general, avoid them. There are times, however, when enlisted men or women violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and they can face a court-martial. Whether the person breaks the law deliberately or accidentally, military consequences occur. The severity of the infraction determines one of three possible levels of a court-martial.

What are the different types of court-martial trials?

  • Summary Court-Martial: Of the three options, this type of trial carries the mildest consequences. Unlike the special or general court-martial trials, the defendant must accept or reject this trial. If the accused prefers to forego a summary court-martial action, she or he can irrevocably waive it and instead allow the commanding officer to determine the level of seriousness and the appropriate punishment.
  • Special Court-Martial: If the defendant commits a heavier alleged infraction of military law, an intermediate level of court-martial convenes. The defendant's case involves a military prosecutor, defense counsel and a jury of three or more military personnel. If the accused prefers, he or she may request a trial by only the judge. Although sentences handed down from a special court-martial carry grave penalties, they are lighter for an officer than for an enlisted member of the service. An officer cannot be confined or discharged.
  • General Court-Martial: The military reserves this trial level for the most severe crimes. It is similar to a civilian felony trial. The defendant faces the possibility of harsh consequences. A preliminary hearing allows each side to gather and present evidence before the general court-martial unless the accused waives the right to a pre-trial.

How does it help to hire a civilian representative?

The military will provide free legal counsel to the defendant in a military court-martial. The defendant can additionally hire a civilian representative who specializes in martial law and court-martial trials. The non-enlisted specialist will work together with the military-provided counsel to achieve the most favorable result possible.   

There are many instances of dismissed cases or lighter sentences when a civilian expert is involved. A military criminal charge is a serious matter. Enlisted personnel should use all available resources, military and non-military, to ensure justice and fairness prevail.

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