The 3 types of courts-martial, explained

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The lawyers at Crisp and Associates can provide information, guidance, and representation on the entire courts-martial process.

The military’s version of a civilian criminal trial is called a court-martial, and to no surprise, the procedures for armed forces and noncombatant trials differ significantly.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the foundation for the military legal system in the United States, constructs the rules and regulations of military law, including things like the jury selection, appeals process, and sentencing.

According to the Department of Defense, “Investigations of serious offenses involving military personnel such as rape, indecent assault, drugs, or larceny are usually conducted by a criminal investigative agency, such as the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID). For less serious offenses and most military-connected crimes, the authority rests with military or security police investigators. In cases involving very minor offenses, the immediate commander of the military member suspected will conduct or cause to be made a preliminary inquiry. Lawyers, known as judge advocates, are actively involved in advising commanders throughout the process.”

The UCMJ divides courts-martial into three categories, which are as follows:

1. Summary court-martial. This is the least serious of the three options, and these proceedings handle minor incidents only. The maximum punishment is considerably less severe than a special or general court-martial. Summary courts-martial are headed by a commissioned officer who does not need to be a lawyer.

2. Special court-martial. Similar to the misdemeanor court in civilian courts of law, a special court-martial can impose greater punishments than summary court-martial, like up to 12 months of confinement. The special court-martial consists of at least three officers and a military trial judge.

3. General court-martial. This is the most serious level of military courts. These proceedings can only be convened by the president, secretary of defense, the commanding officer of a major military installation or by a general or flag officer. It’s often characterized as a felony court, and any punishment not prohibited by the UCMJ can be instilled, including dishonorable discharge or the death penalty.

If a crime violates both military and state civilian law, the military member could be tried by the military court and the civilian court. That’s why it’s important to have a lawyer and a firm well-versed in the military justice system and civilian criminal defense. Whether you are facing a summary court-martial, a special court-martial or a general court-martial, or civilian criminal defense, Crisp and Associates Military Law can help.

The lawyers at Crisp can provide information, guidance, and representation on the entire courts-martial process, including:

  • The initial Article 32 hearing or preliminary hearing
  • Advising you on your right to select an appropriate forum, e.g., military judge alone or a trial with panel members
  • Filing motions on your behalf and pursuing a defense at the actual trial.

Crisp and Associates Military Law can even assist in:

  • Post-trial matters
  • Clemency
  • Post-trial appeals to The Army Court of Criminal Appeal (ACCA), The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA), Navy/Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeal (NMCCA) and Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF).

Schedule a consultation with the military attorneys at Crisp and Associates by calling 888-835-7446 or visiting