What is the Court Martial Process?

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When a military member is charged with a crime, he or she may be subject to a court-martial. A court-martial is the military’s internal judicial system. A service member is charged with a crime when he or she violates any part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It’s important to note that since the UCMJ is an entirely separate set of laws from state laws and the military’s judicial system is entirely separate from the civilian one, someone can be charged with the same crime twice. This does not equate to double jeopardy. This is what to know about the court-martial process. 

1. Accusation and Investigation

The first thing that happens is that someone is accused of violating the UCMJ and that accusation will be brought to your Commanding Officer. This will prompt an investigation, which differs among each military branch. Once the investigation is complete, the accused’s commander and the JAG will receive the report. The JAG advises as to the appropriate action and the commander makes the final decision. If the commander decides upon a court-martial, this is called a “preferral,” and the charges will be put on a preferred charge sheet.

2. Article 32 Hearing 

The next step in the process depends upon the level of court-martial at which the case starts. There are three different levels: general, special, and summary, which try serious, moderate, and least serious crimes respectively. 

Special court-martial cases don’t require an Article 32 hearing, but those at general court-martial do. An Article 32 hearing is a preliminary hearing at which it is decided whether or not the case should go to trial and how it should be charged based upon probable cause. A Preliminary Hearing Officer is responsible for making these determinations. 

3. Referral of Charges

Next up in the process, the Convening Authority will decide whether to refer the charges to trial by court-martial. If it does so, the rest of the charge sheet will be filled out, a referral has taken place, and a trial by court-martial will be scheduled. 

4. Court-Martial Procedure

The next step is the beginning of the actual court-martial process. In front of your Commanding Officer and an unbiased third party, you will be read the charges against you.

5. Sentencing

After the trial part of the court-martial process, if the accused is found guilty there will be a sentencing, which occurs immediately after. Sentencing is litigated in a hearing during which both sides can present evidence, call witnesses, and make their argument. After this, the sentencing authority will decide upon a sentence and the accused will receive that sentence by a military judge or the court member panel.

6. Appeal

If the accused is convicted in a court-martial, there is the post-trial appeal phase. However, the process for appealing the decision is dependent upon the severity of the sentence. If the case has a minimal sentence, the appeal goes through the service branch’s Judge Advocate General. In those with more severe sentences, the appeal processes through the appellate courts. Even higher level courts include the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) and the United States Supreme Court, although military appeals cases are very rare.

The Court-Martial Law Division of Aviso Law LLC Helps Military Members in Colorado Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

The U.S. Government has an interest in obtaining a conviction as soon as possible, as it does not wish to gain negative publicity about one of its service members. That is why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced military attorney as soon as possible. If you are a military service member and have been charged with a crime under the UCMJ, the Court-Martial Law Division of Aviso Law LLC can help. We proudly serve our military members, who sacrifice so much for our country. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

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