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  • 4 Ways Military Court Differs From Civilian Court

    The military is unique. It provides members and their families with housing, jobs, grocery stores, and gas stations. It only makes sense that the military would keep within its community its own judicial system. While there are several similarities to the civilian court system, military courts have unique procedures with consequences specifically geared towards its defendants—our service members.

    So How Does Military Court Differ from Civilian Court?

    1.  Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

    The UCMJ is the set of rules and regulations that the U.S. military justice system follows. The UCMJ also serves as the authority for determining the consequences for those who break rules outlined in the code. This is the military equivalent to the civilian judicial system, criminal penal code, or laws. It should be noted that military members are still expected to abide by civilian laws, and could, in some scenarios, be subjected to trial and punishment under both the military AND the civilian court systems.

    2.  The Court-Martial System

    In the military court system, a court martial is the equivalent of being charged with and being made to answer for an accusation of unlawful behavior in civilian court. There are several types of courts-martial, each with a different level of severity. These courts-martial are as follows:

    • Summary court-martial – used for minor offenses. A summary court martial has only one commissioned officer hearing the case and issuing judgement. Possible penalties include: 30-days jail time, hard labor, reduction in pay grade, or forfeiting up to 66% of service member’s monthly pay.
    • Special court-martial – reserved for the military equivalent of misdemeanor offenses. Punishments may include up to one year of confinement, a loss of up to 66% of monthly pay for a year or less, up to 3 months of hard labor, and a reduced pay grade. Punishment may also include being discharged from service.
    • General court-martial – used for the most severe offenses, and accordingly, carries the harshest penalties. A military judge and/or a panel of service members make up the general court martial trier of fact. The defendant may choose to have the judge, alone, decide guilt or innocence. Punishments range anywhere from confinement, to loss of pay, to the death penalty.

    Under Article 15 of the UCMJ, commanding officers also have the option of imposing non-judicial punishments as they see appropriate.

    3.  The Appeals Process

    The appeals process is another area of the judicial process that differs greatly between the military and civilian systems. In civilian courts, appeals are heard through the circuit courts and can be taken as far as the Supreme Court. In contrast, each individual branch of military handles their own appeals process in the military justice system.  Military appeals is automatic if the convicted servicemember receives a severe punishment (i.e. punitive discharge); however, there are no automatic appeals in the civilian criminal court systems.

    4.  Jury Composition

    Under the Constitution, U.S. citizens have the legal right to be judged by a jury of their peers, which usually consists of 12 members.

    Military juries work differently. Members of the jury are normally commissioned military officers, however, the defendant has the option of requesting enlisted personnel to occupy some of the “jury” seats. A military jury need not consist of 12 members, as they range three to a dozen, depending on the type of court-martial mentioned above.  Most importantly, unlike a civilian court where a unanimous decision is required for conviction, in a military court the Government needs only two-thirds of the military panel to secure a conviction.

    The biggest concern that service members should have is the experience and knowledge of their defense attorney. Military defense attorneys are not able to represent the accused service member until the investigation is done. The results of that investigation determine what level of court-martial the accused will face. This can include life-changing consequences that will have long-lasting impacts on the accused soldier’s life, military career, and family. 

    An experienced, civilian attorney—whose only job it is to defend your rights—is mission critical. The team at Military Justice Attorneys combine the experiences of a civilian attorney and the military expertise of a JAG officer. If you’ve been court-martialed, or have concerns that you soon will be, don’t wait until the investigation is complete. Contact us today at 844-334-5459 for a confidential, no-cost consultation.

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