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Understanding the U.S. Military Disciplinary Proceeding Process

U.S. military disciplinary proceedings have recently received increased attention in the media because of the shootings at Fort Hood and crimes at other army bases, as well as for the prosecution of WikiLeaks supporter Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning). U.S. military employees and veterans are often subject to military laws and procedures, in addition to state and local laws, when they are accused of committing crimes and other improper conduct. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the federal law that governs military conduct and addresses a broad range of issues such as the procedures for bringing cases in military courts, investigations, post-trial reviews, discharges, and the release and revisions of service member records, to name a few.

The UCMJ governs the U.S. military legal system and applies to all branches of the U.S. military including the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. All active duty, retired military personnel, reserve and guard members of all branches can be tried under the UCMJ. When a party is accused of violating the UCMJ they can either be represented in court by a military judicial advocate general (JAG) officer, or they can be represented by a lay attorney.

The UCMJ’s Courts-Martial Jurisdictions

If you have received notice that you will be tried by a military court, it is important to understand the different types of courts that could hear your case. Courts-martial jurisdiction encompasses the U.S. military’s ability to bring active, reserve and retired service members into a U.S. military court. Once in this court, the accused can only be found guilty if they have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are three types of courts-martial jurisdictions. First are summary courts-martial, which are made up of only one commissioned military officer. Such courts only have jurisdiction to try enlisted personnel who have been accused of committing noncapital offenses. If found guilty, all punishments that are not prohibited by law can be imposed. However, punishments specifically excluded include dismissal, execution, dishonorable discharge, imprisonment for more than one month, and forfeiture of an amount greater than two-thirds of one month’s pay.

Second is a special court-martial, which consists of three or more service members and a military judge. Alternatively, an accused subject to a special court-martial can request that they only be charged by a military judge alone. Typically referred to as a misdemeanor court, a special court-martial can try all persons that are subject to the laws provided by the UCMJ, which includes active, reserve and retired service members. Special courts-martial can impose all punishments allowed under the R.C.M. 1003. However, this excludes hard labor that does not have confinement longer than three months, imprisonment for longer than a year, dishonorable discharge, dismissal and execution.

Third, is the general court-martial, which is made up of a military judge and five or more service members. Alternatively, the accused can request to be charged by a military judge alone, in lieu of being tried by the additional service members. Typically referred to as a felony court, the general court-martial can sentence convicted parties to any punishment that the UCMJ does not prohibit, and this includes death.

If you are being tried by a U.S. military court-martial, it is important to understand which type of court-martial will be hearing your case. Different courts-martial are restricted in the parties they can try and the punishments that they can impose. If you have received a military disciplinary proceeding notice, contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. in Miami, Florida. We are committed to providing you with the exceptional legal representation that you deserve.

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