What is a court-martial?

What is a court-martial?
Staff Sgt. Christopher Vroman, 334th Training Squadron combat controller, stands ready with a pair of shackles in hand to place on the defendant following sentencing during a summary court martial Feb. 8, 2013, at the Levitow Training Support Facility, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

(KSLA) - A court-martial is a trial for members of the armed services for offenses against military law, which is separate from civilian criminal law.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, lays out the laws and procedures of courts-martial.

There are three different types of courts-martial

  • General Court-Martial: This is the most serious court-martial and is often characterized as a felony court. A general court-martial can only be called by the President or Secretary of Defense, or by a general, flag officer, or commanding officer of a base. A general court-martial can issue any sentence including the death penalty.
  • Special Court-Martial: This type of court-martial is often characterizes as a misdemeanor court. A special court-martial cannot sentence someone to more than one year of confinement and cannot impose death, dishonorable discharge, or dismissal.
  • Summary Court-Martial: These proceedings consist of one commissioned officer and may try only enlisted personnel for noncapital offenses. The punishments that can be imposed depend on the rank of the accused. A summary court-martial is only for minor offenses. 

What happens in a court-martial?

A military judge presides over court martial proceedings. Generally there is trial counsel, also known as the prosecution, which presents the case against the defendant. The defense counsel represents the accused.

A jury in a court-martial, also known as court members, is comprised of military members who make a determination of innocence or guilt.

The number of court members depend on the type of court-martial. For example, in a general court-martial, there must be at least five court members. In a special court-martial, however, there can be three or more members.

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