Marines Air Dirty Laundry

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Q: Can a court-martial be downgraded?

When a military service member is accused of a crime, they may be subjected to one of three different classifications of court-martial proceedings, each of which differs based on the seriousness of the offense, the procedures used, and the possible punishments delivered.

If you are facing a court-martial, no matter what the level, it’s important to have a skilled civilian military court-martial defense attorney by your side because your reputation, career, freedom, finances, pension, benefits, and possibly your life may be on the line.

In a nutshell, court-martial proceedings generally range from least serious to most serious as follows:

  • Summary court-martial for minor offenses committed by enlisted soldiers and presided over by a single officer.
  • Special court-martial for more serious offenses by enlisted service members or officers and presided over by a panel of three members plus a military judge, or a military judge alone. 
  • General court-martial reserved for the enlisted or officers charged with the most serious crimes, which may be presided over by a military judge alone or a panel of five members plus a military judge. The full range of applicable punishments, including death, can be imposed.

Recently, the Marines did an unexpected and unexplained “about face” when it reportedly dropped a general court-martial against a Paris Island drill instructor, and downgraded it to a summary court-martial.

The drill instructor is reportedly, “no longer charged with making a false official statement…[but] he still faces charges of cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey a general order and disorderly conduct.”

The charges stem from allegations that the accused drill instructor was involved in an incident where another drill instructor “allegedly ordered a Muslim recruit to sit inside a commercial dryer” and reportedly turned the dryer on repeatedly while hurling religious insults. That same drill sergeant has reportedly also been charged in connection with the death of a different recruit “who jumped to his death moments after bracket the drill instructor bracket allegedly slapped him”.

It is not known if the drill instructor in the downgraded court-martial will testify for the prosecution in the court-martial of the other drill instructor.

Having a skilled civilian military court-martial defense attorney, rather than the free and often inexperienced court-appointed attorney from the trial defense service can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. Devoting the necessary time and resources to an aggressive and personalized defense often translates to more thorough investigations, access to recognized experts, better plea negotiations, aggressive trial and appellate representation, and presentation of mitigating factors to reduce or eliminate punishment.

If you are facing a court-martial or appealing a conviction, or fighting an administrative action or separation, the military attorneys at Elkus, Sisson, and Rosenstein, will provide you with personalized high-end representation.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

From our offices in Denver and Colorado Springs, we represent service members of all ranks, in all branches, anywhere in the world.

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