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What’s the difference between military and civilian courts?

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2022 | Military Law

If you face trouble while you’re in the military, you need to know the differences between a military court or civilian court and how it will handle your case. For the most part, civilian courts will handle cases in civil or criminal court. On the other hand, a military court may try someone in one of three ways:

  1. Summary courts martial
  2. Special courts martial
  3. General courts martial

Crimes committed by servicemembers are usually handled in military court, but it is possible for a servicemember to be tried both in military court and a state civilian court.

Big differences between military and civilian trials

Perhaps the biggest difference between the military and civilian trials are that military trials don’t have to have a unanimous decision to come up with a verdict. Split verdicts are allowed in criminal trials in military court, even though civilian court will require (in most states) a unanimous verdict.

Breaking it down further:

  • A general courts martial requires three quarters of the eight-member panel to agree to convict on the final verdict
  • A special courts martial requires agreement among three quarters of the four-member panel to convict the accused

If the case is about a capital case, then the military does require that all 12 members involved agree on the verdict.

Why is it important to know the differences between military and civilian trials?

One of the main reasons is just to be aware of your rights. Once you understand your rights, you’ll be in a better position to protect yourself and your interests. In the military, you may want to fight to keep your career or avoid a court marital on your record. In civilian court, you might be fighting against harsh penalties or imprisonment that you were hoping to avoid.

In either kind of case, it is important that you know what to expect and are aware of all the options that are open to you. You deserve an opportunity to defend yourself and to look for a way to resolve the situation in your favor. A strong defense will help you make that happen.