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Military Justice Center

Understanding court-martial appeals

A military member undergoing court-martial is essentially the same as a civilian going through a criminal trial. There are different levels of courts-martial that all bring different punishments. Some of more well-known examples of court-martial that you may be familiar with include deserting during a time of war, insubordination and operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. 

Even after an individual has received a verdict, it is still possible to appeal the decision. Court-martial can bring lifelong consequences, and you do not want one mistake to haunt you the rest of your life. 

How to appeal a summary court-martial

Summary courts-martial involve minor charges. You will need to appeal any unsatisfactory decision to whichever level of command is next highest. This is also the time to request a delay of punishment until the appeal is complete. The commander then has the authority to either keep the punishment in place, reduce the punishment or toss it out entirely. You will need to request this type of appeal within five days of the verdict. 

How to appeal special and general courts-martial

These are for more serious offenses. You will have a right to an attorney during the proceedings, and you can either hire one of your own or use a military defense attorney. Next, your case has to go in front of a military court of appeals. In some circumstances, this will automatically happen. In others, you will need to file for appeal. 

The court will then review all the evidence to ensure you received fair treatment. The trial counsel will try once again to show you were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the event this route is not successful, you can take it to the Court of Appeals. Your attorney will file this motion, and the judicial body will look for any errors made throughout your case. In extraordinary circumstances, you will need to file a writ of habeas corpus.

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