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What you need to know about courts-martial, part 1 of 3: Summary courts-martial

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2021 | Uncategorized |

If you have been court-martialed, you know that you are facing potentially serious consequences. However, not every court-martial is the same. Depending on the type of court-martial, the rules and procedures will be different. It is critical to know what type of court-martial you are facing in order to know your rights and options.

There are three types of courts-martial: The summary court-martial, the special court-martial and the general court-martial. This is the first part of a three-part series on these courts-martial, focusing on the summary court-martial.

What is the summary court-martial?

In general, the summary court-martial is the least serious of the three types of court-martial. It involves the least serious offenses and the least detailed and intense procedures of the three. In most cases, a commanding officer or higher possesses the authority to order a summary court-martial.

Even though it is the least serious of all the types of courts-martial, the summary court-martial is still very serious. For lesser crimes that do not rise to the level of requiring a court-martial, your authorities will proceed with some type of Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP). The fact that you have been court-martialed indicates that this is a higher-level crime than one that would result in a NJP.

Potential penalties in a summary court-martial

According to the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service’s summary court-martial fact sheet, a guilty verdict could bring any of the following penalties:

  • Confinement of up to 30 days
  • Hard labor of up to 45 days
  • A 60 day restriction to a particular area
  • Reduced pay for up a month
  • Rank reduction

These are all significant penalties. Further, in many cases, at least the determination to index you for an offense, if not the conviction itself, will stay on your permanent record.  Potential employers, landlords and others will have access to this information down the road, so it is important to fight back aggressively.

Procedure for a summary court-martial

A summary court-martial is a relatively simple procedure.

Before the summary court-martial proceeds, you have the option to object. If you are convinced that you will require a more formal procedure to prove your innocence, you can refuse the summary court-martial in favor of a special court-martial or higher.

Once the case proceeds, an active-duty commissioned officer (usually a captain or higher) presides over the proceedings, serving as a summary court-martial officer.

The actual proceedings are somewhat similar to a civil court case or a higher-level courts-martial, but it proceeds much more quickly and there are less procedural nuances involved. However, witnesses and evidence are still involved as they are in regular criminal trials.

At the end of the case, you will either be deemed not-guilty or guilty. If you are judged guilty, you will receive some kind of disciplinary action as illustrated above.

What you need to do if you’ve been court-martialed

Although the process is much simpler, you still could receive significant punishment and have a conviction on your permanent record. Further, other than the Air Force, none of the other military branches offer legal counsel for summary courts-martial defense.

To protect your rights, your military career and your future reputation, make sure you discuss your summary court-martial case with an experienced military criminal defense lawyer.