Not everybody knows that the military operates under its own law and code of justice. People in the military can still fall foul of civilian law. But they also have to follow military law and could face punishment for an infraction that breaches these laws. Some laws that are only relevant to the military include being absent without leave and disobeying a commanding officer. Civilian charges for military personnel could also result in discipline within the military. For example, the police could charge someone with drink driving off base. And their commanding officer could also punish them for misconduct. It’s important to know the basics of military law, especially if you employ current or ex-service personnel.
The Court-martial Process
A court-martial is the military version of a civilian trial. If the military has charged someone with a crime under “Punitive Articles” in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), they will be subject to a court-martial. Some of these are similar to civilian crimes, while others are unique to the military. There are three types of court-martial: summary, special and general.
A summary courts-martial is a quick procedure for minor offenses. A commissioned officer reviews the facts of the case, instead of a judge. Punishments for someone found guilty in a summary courts-martial include up to 30 days of confinement. They could also receive 45 days of hard labor, restriction to a certain area for 60 days or one month of reduced pay. Although there is no judge, it’s still advised to seek advice and defense from a company such as Gray and Co Military Law Solicitors.
A special courts-martial is for more serious offenses. This type of court-martial is like a civilian trial, following a pattern of pre-trial motions, trial and sentencing. A special courts-martial requires a military judge. The prosecution uses a trial attorney. And, in some circumstances, the court assigns a defense attorney to the accused. The facts of the case are, usually, decided by a panel of three service members, but the defense can request that a judge performs this role. In a special courts-martial, someone can incur a maximum penalty of 6 months of confinement. They may also receive pay forfeiture for 6 months, 3 months of hard labor or a bad-conduct discharge.
Prosecution of the most severe crimes happens through a general courts-martial. They also have a military judge and representation for both the defense and prosecution. But a panel of 12 members decides the facts of the case. Again, the accused can request the judge to do this instead, though only if the prosecution isn’t seeking the death penalty. The judge can impose maximum sentences from either the UCMJ or the Manual for Courts-martial (MCM). The include life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge and the death penalty.
The different types of court-martial are only the beginning of the process in military law. Though it is close to the process of a civilian trial, there are key differences. For example, the involvement of the accused’s commanding officer.