Military Courts


Types of Courts-Martial

Review and Appeal


Military courts are usually convened where military personnel are assigned such as Ft. Leonard Wood or Whiteman Air Force Base. However, the jurisdiction of a court-martial does not depend upon where the court sits. The scene of the trial is not material so long as the rights of the accused are not prejudiced. Military courts are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Manual for Courts-Martial, United States 2005 (Revised Edition) and the published opinions of the Courts of Military Review, the Court of Military Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is available many places online, including the U.S. military site.

There are three types of courts-martial.

A. Summary Court-Martial. Composed of one commissioned officer on active duty whose function is to promptly adjudicate minor offenses under a simple procedure. The officer is authorized to try most persons subject to the Code and hears all the evidence, examines all exhibits, and determines guilt or innocence and punishment. The punishment cannot exceed confinement for more than one month, hard labor without confinement for 45 days, restriction to specified limits for more than 2 months, or forfeiture of more than two-thirds of one month's pay. The accused does not have the right to counsel, but may be permitted to retain counsel. An accused who objects to trial by summary court-martial may be tried by special or general court-martial.

B. Special Court-Martial. Composed of three or more officers, referred to as "court members." It has general jurisdiction to assess punishment of 3 months at hard labor, total forfeiture, reduction to lowest enlisted grade, up to a year’s confinement, and a bad conduct discharge (or some combination thereof). A military judge, a trial and defense counsel (all lawyers) are required.

C. General Court-Martial. Composed of five or more officers also known as "court members" it, like a special court-martial, has jurisdiction of all offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and over all persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There is no limit on the punishment it may assess, other than the statutory limits imposed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and additional limits set forth in the Manual for Courts-Martial. In some cases the court can even impose a sentence of death. Also, the military judge and trial and defense counsel must be lawyers.

D. At an enlisted accused's request, one-third of the membership of special and general courts-martial must be enlisted persons. The accused, in special and general courts-martial, may choose to be tried by the military judge alone, waiving his right to be tried by a court-martial composed of members.

Review and Appeal. 

A. A summary court-martial is reviewed by the commander who is the convening authority.

B. A special court-martial is reviewed by the commander who is the convening authority and, if a punitive discharge is approved, there is automatic review of the service involved by the Court of Military Review in Washington, D.C.

C. A general court-martial conviction, after review by the convening authority, will be automatically reviewed by the Court of Military Review if a punitive discharge is approved or if the approved punishment extends to death, dismissal of a commissioned officer, cadet or midshipman, or confinement for one year or more. The conviction of a general or flag officer also will be automatically reviewed.

D. Selected cases are reviewed by the Court of Military Appeals.

E. After final review by military courts, an accused can request review by the civilian federal judiciary.


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