Make no mistake. This is serious business.
Courts-martial can send someone to jail, take all rank and money, and give a Bad-Conduct Discharge or Dishonorable Discharge. For all types of military trials, it is imperative that you obtain the services of a quality and experienced court-martial lawyer to fight the charges against you. You want a military lawyer who is experienced, well-spoken, understands the process, and willing to spend time getting to know you and your circumstances.
Courts-martial come in three different types, and each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
The biggest question we receive about courts-martial is “How does the process work?”
Frankly, it is not all that different from civilian criminal trials. However, everything has a different name. Much of the job of a court-martial lawyer is to manage the process and obtain any and all advantages for you.
At this point, information is being gathered by investigators and the command. Based on this information, a decision on trial will be made by the command with the advice of their JAG lawyers. Your most powerful right is to remain silent and not talk to anyone but your lawyer about what you know.
Preferral of Charges
This is when the accused is presented charges on a DD Form 458. At this point, the process is official and certain rights are triggered.
Article 32 Investigation (General Courts-Martial)
This serves a similar purpose to civilian grand juries and preliminary hearings. It is to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to move the case forward to trial. Despite what you might hear, this is an extremely important phase for both prosecution and defense.
Referral of Charges
This is when the convening authority (usually a General/Admiral) decides to forward the trial to a military judge for trial. This is, arguably, the most significant step in the process and triggers motions practice by the court-martial lawyers. A military judge will be assigned to the case within days of referral.
This is the first appearance in a military courtroom. Here, the judge informs the accused of rights and choices. It is generally very simple and brief.
This is where attorneys for both sides attempt to “prep the battlefield” with pretrial orders/decisions from the judge. Most often, each side attempts to limit the evidence that can be presented by the opposing side while preserving any tactical advantages. For the defense, this is the time to request discovery (obtain information relevant to the charges and witnesses).
This is where a jury (panel) is chosen, evidence is presented, arguments are made, existence of guilt is determined, sentencing evidence is presented, and a sentence is determined. It can last a little as one day or several weeks.
During this stage, the record of trial is reviewed for errors, motions may be made for certain relief, and requests for clemency are submitted.
This is somewhere between nonjudicial punishment and higher-level courts-martial. You face being reduced in rank, up to 30 days in jail (lower enlisted members), forfeiture of pay, and restriction/extra duty. While less severe when compared to the other types of court-martial, it can still take away your freedom, destroy your career, and provide framework for an administrative separation.
The scariest part of the Summary Court-Martial process is that you generally do not have a court-martial attorney in the room with you. Therefore, you need someone to educate you on the process and give you the tools necessary to walk into the room prepared to fight for yourself. For Summary Courts-Martial, I spend time giving you the paperwork and knowledge necessary to fully fight the charges against you. I take as much time as is necessary to do this, and I remain available for consultation while you are in court. With me, you will never be alone at a Summary Court-Martial, because you have more options when you hire civilian counsel.
When you hire civilian counsel, you also have the option of having the civilian court-martial lawyer present in the room during the hearing. Military trial defense court-martial attorneys usually avoid these proceedings because of the rules for court-martial and their high caseloads as public defenders. Why go this alone when you have the power to have someone familiar with Summary Courts-Martial next to you? Never underestimate the assistance that can be provided by a court-martial lawyer.
(Sometimes called BCD-Special)
These are the Army’s equivalent to civilian misdemeanor court, and they can reduce servicemembers to the grade of E-1, take all pay, jail for up to 12 months, and issue a Bad-Conduct Discharge. While this is a lesser court than a General Court-Martial, it is still dangerous. You may lose a year of your life, get a criminal record, and suffer the impact of a Bad-Conduct Discharge for the rest of your life. Never go down this path alone.
I stand at your side for every significant step in this process. As part of your defense team, I evaluate the evidence, your history, and the court in order to provide you with the best solution possible.
This is the big one, and it has the potential of taking away your freedom forever. The equivalent of a civilian felony court, it is limited only by the maximum punishment of the charges against you, and that means the additional possibility of a Dishonorable Discharge. The possible outcomes are harsh, and the process is exceedingly complex. This is why competent, dedicated military counsel is of the utmost importance.
Because of the dire consequences of this process, you must assemble a team to fight for your rights and those things that are important to you. Going this path alone is virtual suicide, and you must find someone who is experienced and skilled as a trial attorney. The work begins before charges are brought, through an Article 32 hearing, and then to trial with a Judge or Panel (Jury). Going forward alone or with inexperienced counsel is not fair to you or those who care about you.
For sexual assault cases arising under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, almost all allegations go to a general court-martial where harsh and life-altering punishments may be imposed.
A qualifying conviction at court-martial could result in mandatory sex offender registration. Individual states maintain policies that govern these registries. This stigma affects almost all convictions under Article 120, UCMJ as well as a host of other offenses. Be sure to ask your military lawyer whether you will be required to have your picture and information on one of these online registries.
If you are found guilty at court-martial, your information will be published at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This is a database that contains records of arrest and conviction. It is used by law enforcement agencies and some private organizations when background checks are mandated. Information stored in this database can effect future employment and other opportunities.
If you are a veteran or servicemember in need of representation for your discharge upgrade case:Contact the Mayer Group
The Mayer Group is licensed to provide representation in all areas of Military Law, up to and including trial representation. Each attorney is properly licensed to practice law within their respective states. As such, they are also authorized to represent clients before all military trial courts (courts-martial), military boards, appropriate federal agencies and boards, and federal proceedings before the EEOC and MSPB.