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Courts-Martial Explained

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The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provides for three different types of courts-martial: summary, special, and general. These forms of courts-martial differ in their make-up and the punishments which may be imposed.

The Military Rules of Evidence apply to all classifications of courts-martial. Moreover, an accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Summary Court-Martial

A summary court-martial consists of one commissioned officer, and may try only enlisted personnel for noncapital offenses. The punishment which may be imposed depends on the grade of the accused.

In the case of enlisted members above the fourth pay grade, a summary court-martial may impose any punishment not forbidden by the law except death, dismissal , dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, confinement for more than 1 month, hard labor without confinement for more than 45 days, restriction to specified limits for more than 2 months, or forfeiture of more than two-thirds of 1 month's pay.

In the case of all other enlisted members, the court-martial may also impose confinement for not more than one month and may reduce the accused to the lowest pay grade, E-1.

The accused has the absolute right to refuse trial by summary court-martial. The accused does not have the right to representation by an attorney. The accused does have the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses and produce evidence, and to testify or remain silent.

Special Court-Martial

A special court-martial consists of not less than three members and a military judge, or an accused may be tried by military judge alone upon request of the accused.

A special court-martial is often characterized as a misdemeanor court, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers and midshipmen.

A special court-martial may impose any punishment authorized under R.C.M.1003 except death, dishonorable discharge, dismissal, confinement for more than 1 year, hard labor without confinement for more than 3 months, forfeiture of pay exceeding two-thirds pay per month, or any forfeiture of pay for more than 1 year. .

General Court-Martial

A general court-martial consists of not less than five members and a military judge, or an accused may be tried by military judge alone upon request of the accused.

A general court-martial is often characterized as a felony court, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers and midshipmen.

A general court-martial may adjudge any punishment not prohibited by the UCMJ, including death when specifically authorized.

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