All service members convicted by court-martial are entitled to appeal their case to a higher decision-making body for review. Some appeals may proceed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Convening Authority Review
The first step in the review process is approval of the conviction and sentence of the court-martial by the convening authority who first referred the case for trial. The convening authority may approve all or part of a legal sentence, or may mitigate a sentence or change the punishment to one of a different nature so long as the severity of the punishment is not increased.
The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) Review
After a sentence is approved by the convening authority, it can be appealed for review by The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) for your specific branch of service or a military Court of Criminal Appeals, depending on the severity of the sentence.
When the sentence approved by the convening authority is confinement for one year or less and does not involve a punitive discharge, TJAG from the same branch as the convicted service member reviews the case for error. If an error is found, the case is forwarded to the military Court of Criminal Appeals for that branch – the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals.
Courts of Criminal Appeals
When the sentence approved by the convening authority is death, a bad-conduct discharge, a dishonorable discharge, dismissal of an officer, or confinement for two years or more, the case skips the TJAG review step and goes directly to the intermediate level court specific to that branch – the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals – for review.
The Courts of Criminal Appeals are composed of military judges who work in groups of threes to review cases for legal error, factual sufficiency, and sentence appropriateness. A court in a particular case may set aside the findings and sentence or reduce the sentence, but cannot increase the severity of the punishment.
Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
If a service member has appealed the court-martial conviction to a Court of Criminal Appeals and lost, he or she can appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). The CAAF, is composed of five civilian judges appointed by the president to fifteen year terms. The judges hear appeals from all the branches of the military in “all cases in which the sentence, as affirmed by a Court of Criminal Appeals, extends to death; all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals which The Judge Advocate General orders sent to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for review; and all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals in which, upon petition of the accused and on good cause shown, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has granted a review.” This means that the court does not have to hear a case appealed to it unless the sentence is death or TJAG requests review.
United States Supreme Court
As a last resort, the accused may petition the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari or a writ of habeas corpus. Review by the Supreme Court is entirely discretionary and extremely rare, but not unheard of.
Our Court-Martial Appeal Attorneys Can Help
Military members are entitled to legal representation during all phases of appellate review. However, not just any attorney will do. Just as a service members need proper training and equipment for the action at hand, so too does an attorney. The unique nature of the courts-martial appeals system necessitates you hire an attorney with demonstrated military law experience if you want to have the best chance of over turning your conviction.
Our attorneys have experience litigating some of the most complex and high profile military appeals in recent years. Aggressively fighting on behalf of clients, attorneys at Aviso Law LLC have the experience to formulate keen legal arguments to benefit clients. Contact us immediately if you are a member of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard and want to appeal your conviction.