Military Law 101 – Courts-Martial
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provides for three different types of courts-martial: (i) summary; (ii) special; and (iii) general. These forms of courts-martial differ in their make-up and in the punishments which may be imposed.
The Military Rules of Evidence apply to all classifications of courts-martial. And, like most criminal trials in State and Federal courts, the burden of proof that the Government must meet is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A summary court-martial consists of only one commissioned officer, and may try only enlisted personnel for non-capital offenses. The punishment which may be imposed depends upon the grade of the accused.
In cases of enlisted members above the fourth (4th) pay grade, a summary court-martial may impose any punishment not forbidden by law, except: death, dismissal, dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, confinement for more than one (1) month, hard labor without confinement for more than forty-five (45) days, restriction to specified limits for more than two (2) months, or forfeiture of more than two-thirds (2/3) of one (1) month’s pay. In the case of all other enlisted members, the court-martial may also impose confinement for not more than one (1) month and may reduce the accused to the lowest pay grade, E1.
Similar to a NJP, the accused has the absolute right to refuse trial by summary court-martial. The accused does not, however, have the right to representation by an attorney. The accused does have the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to produce evidence, and to testify or to remain silent.
A special court-martial consists of not less than three (3) members and a military judge, or an accused may be tried by a military judge alone upon request. This type of court-martial is often characterized as a misdemeanor court, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers, enlisted personnel, and, in some cases, civilian employees.
A special court-martial may impose any punishment authorized under R.C.M. 1003 except death, dishonorable discharge, dismissal, confinement for more than one (1) year, hard labor without confinement for more than three (3) months, forfeiture of pay exceeding two-thirds (2/3) pay per month, or any forfeiture of pay for more than one (1) year.
A general court-martial consists of not less than five (5) members and a military judge, or an accused may be tried by a military judge alone upon request. A general court-martial is often characterized as a felony court, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers, enlisted personnel, and, in some cases, civilian employees. A general court-martial may impose any punishment not prohibited by the UCMJ, including death, when specifically authorized.