Receiving a court-martial is never a positive event in a military career. You know that you are facing potentially serious trouble, but if you have never been through the process, you probably don’t know what to expect. There are three types of courts-martial, which include the summary, the special and the general, each with its own procedures and possible outcomes.
This is the second part of a three-part series on these courts-martial, this one focused on the special court-martial. Knowing what to expect can help you defend yourself more effectively and protect your rights throughout the process.
What is a special court-martial?
Of the three types of courts-martial, the special court-martial is in the middle of the special and general courts-martial in terms of seriousness of charges and complications of the procedures. Although it’s not an exact correlation, a special court-martial is most like a serious misdemeanor in the civilian criminal justice system. A military judge presides over a special court-martial, a military attorney handles the prosecution and the accused usually has an attorney to provide the defense.
Make no mistake: A special court-martial involves a significant infraction that could result in major, life-altering penalties.
Potential penalties in a special court-martial
The penalties for a special court-martial conviction can be much more serious than those in a summary court-martial, including:
- Confinement for up to a year
- Forfeiture of pay for up to six months
- Hard labor lasting up to three months
- A bad conduct discharge
Bear in mind, in addition to the immediate penalties that can result from a guilty verdict in a special court-martial, this information will remain on your permanent record in both military and civilian contexts. In short, this conviction could be catastrophic for your life. Make sure you fight these charges aggressively.
Procedure for a special court-martial
For special court-martial, the procedure is significantly more involved and in-depth than the procedures involved in a summary court-martial.
- First: You will be formally charged with a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), along with specifications that include descriptions of specific violating acts.
- Second: Assuming the appropriate authority determines these charges should go to trial, he or she will refer the case to trial by court-martial.
- Third: You will go to trial. In a special court-martial, the trial is much like a civilian criminal trial, with a judge, witnesses, evidence, discovery, motions and, in most cases, a jury of sorts consisting of three servicemembers. You have the option to request that at least one-third of the court members consist of enlisted personnel. You can also request that the trial be decided upon by a judge without any court members.
- Fourth: If you have been convicted, you have the option of appealing your conviction. This is no guarantee of getting a better outcome, but your sentence could be reduced or your conviction overturned. Further, appealing your sentence cannot result in increased charges or sentencing.
Although these steps look simple on the surface, there are nuances and legal complications requiring in-depth analysis throughout the process. For example, why would you want to request a one-third enlisted court membership or a judge rather than court members to decide your case? For these and many other questions, it is critical to work with an experienced military attorney who can protect your rights and interests.
What to do
You need to get an attorney on your side as soon as possible. Although you will be assigned legal defense counsel, you want to make sure you are working with a knowledgeable lawyer with extensive experience handling courts-martial defense.