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Who oversees a court-martial?

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2022 | Military Law

If you are in the military, things are not quite the same when you face accusations of wrongdoing. While you could also face trial in a civilian court, often, the military prefers to keep things in-house by using the court-martial process.

A court-martial is the military equivalent of a criminal trial, and there are three types you could face. Here they are in order of increasing severity:

  1. A summary court-martial

This is the least severe of the three and is only used for minor offenses. A commissioned officer will take charge rather than anyone with legal training. The sentences they can issue are limited, but it could still result in a month behind bars. Forced labor, demotion and wage penalties are other options.

  1. A special court-martial

This covers more severe offenses, and a military judge will take charge over a panel of four who decide on your fate. You will be up against a prosecuting attorney, so make sure you get someone to defend you. A conviction could see you sentenced to a year’s confinement, six months of hard labor, losing half a year’s pay or even a bad conduct discharge.

  1. A general court-martial

You would need to be in serious trouble indeed to face one of these. Once again, a military judge will take charge, but this time the panel is made up of eight people. You will definitely need legal help to counter the prosecuting attorney’s attempts to convict you. If you are convicted, you might escape with a dishonorable discharge if you are lucky. A life sentence or death sentence are possibilities at the other end of the scale.

You are at an instant disadvantage when you do not understand your situation and the laws in question. Do not take a court-martial lightly, no matter what level it is. Even a conviction for a minor offense could harm your chances of acquittal if accused of something else in the future. Getting legal help is the best way to protect your freedom, reputation and career.