If military personnel commit crimes they must also go to trial as civilians do. However, they also may face charges in a court-martial, the military’s version of a criminal trial, which has specific rules and regulations. If you are a military member facing criminal charges, you should know your rights.
You have the right to remain silent
Military members can choose not to speak at all about their case, especially because investigators and prosecutors can use anything they say against them. They have the right to refuse to answer questions and avoid self-incrimination. Similarly, witnesses also can opt not to testify. The accused and witnesses are protected by privileges concerning mandatory incrimination of any kind.
You have a right to military and civilian legal counsel
The military appoints and pays for the uniformed attorney who will manage your defense. You can also hire a civilian attorney, which will give you an advantage as you can select one you trust, and one with plenty of military experience in cases like yours.
You have the right to choose a forum
An accused military member may choose a military judge, or a court panel to conduct the trial. The judge decides alone if the accused is innocent or guilty. If the judge determines the accused is guilty, the same judge will also decide what the sentence will be. The court panel, on the other hand, will decide together via ballot voting. They only need a majority vote, not a unanimous one.
You have the right to plead not guilty
In the heat of war, soldiers must make life-or-death decisions. Questions may arise as to whether the end does justify the means. Although there are reasons military defendants might plead guilty, if the accused believes they acted because of moral obligation and principle, then they can plead not guilty.
If you can fight for your country, you should also be able to fight for yourself. Facing a court-martial can be stressful, but fully understanding the rights you have can help you defend them.