The UMCJ has established three different categories of courts martial that are used based on the seriousness of the offense. Officially, the UGMJ does not differentiate between misdemeanors and felonies. The UMCJ involves many offenses, some purely military, such as absence without leave, for example. Other offenses go beyond being purely military.
The courts martial that are used to try military offenses include:
- Summary Court Martial, used for minor offenses. It involves one commissioned officer who acts as judge and jury. In this proceeding, you have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses, provide evidence, and testify. It is generally a quick procedure where the facts are reviewed and a ruling made. A summary court martial can lead to penalties of up to a month of confinement, forfeiture of pay, hard labor, or reduction in rank. You are not given a free military attorney but can retain your own who can represent you during the process.
- Special Court Martial, used for more serious offenses. It can be made up of a three-member panel and a military judge or you can request to be tried by the judge alone. Generally, it resembles a civilian trial involving the same procedures such as discovery, pretrial motions, the actual trial, followed by a ruling. You will have the right to a free military defense attorney or can retain your own civilian defense attorney. Punishments can range from a bad conduct discharge to up a year of confinement, forfeiture of pay, pay grade reductions, and more.
- General Court Martial, which is used for the most serious crimes. It operates with a panel of at least five members and a military judge or you can request to be tried by the judge alone. It is commonly seen as a “felony” court because of the serious nature of the charges. You have the right to be assigned a free military defense lawyer or you can retain a civilian lawyer. This proceeding can call for maximum sentences, including dishonorable discharge, life imprisonment, or even death.
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