The military holds its service members to a high standard of conduct. Anything that goes against those standards can lead to legal consequences. A service member may face a court-martial if someone accuses them of a crime that the Uniform Code of Military Justice covers.
Not all court-martial proceedings are the same. There are three distinct types that service members should know about in case they ever face this event.
The court only hears the most serious offenses during general courts-martial proceedings. This includes crimes that can lead to the death penalty, life in prison or a dishonorable discharge. There is a military judge who presides over the proceedings. There is also a panel of five to ten members who decide the facts depending on the charge.
It’s possible that for the defendant to ask the judge to decide the facts, but this isn’t an option if the death penalty is a consideration in the case.
Prosecutors may initiate special courts-martial proceedings when defendants face serious offenses that carry up to six months of loss of pay, one year of confinement, a bad conduct discharge or three months of hard labor. These proceedings are similar to that of a civilian court.
Summary courts-martial proceedings are for minor crimes that involve an enlisted service member. A commissioned officer oversees these, but that individual might not be an attorney or a military judge. The maximum penalties for this type of proceeding are 60 days of restriction, one month of reduced pay, 30 days of confinement, reduction in rank or 45 days of hard labor.
Any military member who faces a court-martial of any type should ensure that they understand their legal options. In some cases, there won’t be a free defense option through the military. Working with an attorney who’s familiar with these cases is beneficial as they’ll know what options you have and how they might impact you.