The Uniform Code of Military Justice applies to all members of the uniformed services of the United States. Members of the military reserve components are also subject to the UCMJ if they are either on active duty or performing training or drills. Charges of criminal activities or other misconduct are handled by court-martial.

Courts-Martial

A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law. If the defendant is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt the court-martial will also decide punishment. An accused facing court-martial can have military defense counsel appointed, but also has the right to retain civilian counsel.

  • Summary Court-Martial – this consists of a judge advocate acting as both prosecuting attorney and defense counsel, and resolves issues of minor alleged misconduct involving the enlisted. The maximum punishment is 30 days of confinement, and can also include reductions in pay grade, or up to 60 days of restriction. The accused may refuse to be tried by summary court-martial, which will result in referral to a special court-marital.
  • Special Court-Martial – this intermediate level of court-martial will normally consist of a military judge, prosecuting counsel, defense counsel, and a minimum of three officers as jury. The accused may request to be tried by the judge alone, and enlisted personnel may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted members. Sentences can result in forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one year, and enlisted personnel can face up to one year of confinement or discharge.
  • General Court-Martial – A general court-martial adjudicates the most serious charges in military justice. Sentences can include dismissal, dishonorable discharge, confinement and death. Before a general court martial is convened a pretrial investigation, known as an Article 32 hearing, will be held unless it is waived by the accused. It is used to determine if there is enough evidence for a general court-martial, and affords the accused's counsel the opportunity to dispute evidence, cross examine witnesses, and present his own evidence.

If the trial results in a conviction, the case is reviewed by the officer who referred the case to court-martial, known as the convening authority. This officer has discretion to mitigate the findings and sentence. If the sentence includes a bad conduct discharge, a dishonorable discharge, dismissal of an officer, confinement for one year or more or death, the case is reviewed by an intermediate court. Further levels of appeal include the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and in some cases, the United States Supreme Court.

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