Defending Those Who Defend Us®
  • Court-Martial Appeals

    Justice is not always served at a trial. For many service members, vindication can be achieved through the appellate review process. Each military branch has a Court of Criminal Appeals to review and consider the decisions meted out by military courts-martial. Overseeing these courts is the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which sits as the military’s highest court and may be a service member’s first opportunity to have his or her case reviewed by civilian judges not subject to military authorities.

    United States Courts of Criminal Appeals (CCAs)

    Established under Article 66, UCMJ, 10. U.S.C. § 866, by the Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) of each branch, are military’s CCAs:

    What cases do the CCAs review?

    The CCAs are empowered to review and act on court-martial records by affirming, reversing, or modifying the findings and sentence in cases in which the sentence, as approved, includes:

    • death;
    • dismissal of a commissioned officer, cadet or midshipman;
    • dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge; or
    • confinement for 2 years or more.

    In other words, if you were prosecuted at a General or Special Court-Martial and received a punitive discharge (dismissal, DD, or BCD) OR at least two years of confinement, a CCA will automatically review your case.

    Who are the judges?

    The CCAs are composed of several three-judge panels. These judges may be commissioned officers or civilians.

    What relief can the CCAs grant?

    The CCAs have broad authority to grant relief on appeal, including:

    • Dismissing one or more findings of guilt;
    • Setting aside a finding of guilt for a lesser offense;
    • Reducing a sentence or punishment; or
    • Ordering a rehearing to reexamine any charge or sentence.

    One of the greatest advantages in military appeals is the CCA’s ability to evaluate the factual sufficiency of a case. Article 66 authorizes the CCAs to “weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, and determine controverted questions of fact,” even though the judges were present at trial to hear the witnesses testify. If a CCA is not convinced of a service member’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then the conviction and sentence can be set aside.

    United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF)

    If a service member does not obtain relief from the CCA, he or she can petition the military’s highest appellate court: the United States Courts of Appeals of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). CAAF exercises worldwide jurisdiction over military service members and is composed of five civilian judges appointed for 15-year terms by the President of the United States. CAAF deals with a wide-range of legal issues including constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, evidence, administrative law, and national security law.

    Other Avenues For Relief

    If you were convicted at court-martial but do not rate an automatic review of your case, there are other avenues of appeal. Article 69, UCMJ, empowers the respective JAGs, upon application by the accused, to “modify or set aside, in whole or in part, the findings and sentence in a court-martial” that is not reviewed by the CCAs.

    To qualify for consideration, an application generally must be submitted to the JAG no later than one year after the completion of final review. This period may be extended up to three years for good cause. 

    Contact MJA Today

    If you or a loved one was convicted at court-martial, there is still hope to obtain relief during the appellate process. Contact one of our military justice attorneys today for a free consultation.