What Can Cause a Court-Martial?

Many military members may wonder, “What can cause a court-martial?” A court-martial represents an opportunity for service members who have been accused of misconduct to defend themselves against the allegations. Punishment for guilty verdicts can be severe. The military rules of evidence are strictly followed during these proceedings, which mirror the formality of the civilian criminal legal system.

Common Triggers for Court-Martial Proceedings

It’s important for service members to understand what conduct can lead to a court-martial. Being aware of these triggers can help military personnel navigate their duties responsibly to avoid any legal intervention. Some of the most common triggers for a court-martial proceeding include:

  • Violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ serves as the foundation of military law. It details all possible offenses and what should happen if someone is found guilty of participating in any one of them.These repercussions can be significant, as being found guilty of a more severe violation could kick a service member out of the military or even land them in prison. This is why taking the time to understand UCMJ in its entirety is essential for serving in the military.
  • Absent without leave (AWOL). One of the most common ways to face a court-martial is to “ go AWOL,” which means leaving a military post without permission or not showing up for duty.This can have a significant negative impact on military operations, which is why there are various penalties assigned for AWOL violations, depending on their severity. For example, if someone else was injured or an enemy made progress due to the absence, the punishment could be extreme.
  • Fraternization. The military has certain regulations dictating what type of personal relationships are inappropriate. This is especially true between members of different ranks in the hierarchy, which could complicate personal desires and military obligations.Conflicts in these relationships could undermine the entire chain of command. If there is suspicion that one of these relationships has disrupted the cohesion of a unit or violated a professional standard, a court-martial may ensue.
  • Security violations. With national security being of the utmost importance to the military, any breach of security is investigated and punished harshly. This is because breaches of classified information or anything to compromise the operation of the military could jeopardize not only the safety of fellow service members but also innocent civilians. For example, if a service member left classified documents in a public area and the documents were discovered by someone unauthorized who went ahead and disclosed them publicly, it could put the country in danger. It would warrant some of the most serious consequences against the individual for compromising the security of the country, whether it was done by accident or was an official act of espionage.
  • Substance abuse. The military has zero tolerance when it comes to using illegal drugs as an active service member. To ensure military personnel comply with this policy, frequent screenings are conducted to flag anyone who may be under the influence. Drugs and alcohol are taken seriously in the military because service members need to be ready to act at all times in the event of an emergency and need to remain in top physical and mental shape.
  • War crimes. Service members must also comply with international laws of war, which have been designed to protect human rights. Examples of war crimes include torturing someone, mistreating prisoners, or even unnecessarily destroying property. The military considers war crimes to be the most disgraceful offenses and may take immediate action to remove someone from service to uphold the integrity of the military’s reputation.


Q: Which Military Personnel Are Present in a Court-Martial?

A: A court-martial is made up of various military personnel who serve roles almost identical to what is found in civilian criminal court. Oftentimes, there will be a single officer who serves as a judge. In special and general courts-martial, there are panels of other service members who represent a jury. While the ranks of these individuals may vary, it is required that everyone involved in a court-martial is an active member of the military.

Q: What Kinds of UCMJ Violations Warrant a Court-Martial?

A: Any violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice can warrant a court-martial. The court-martial can be ordered for a number of offenses, ranging in severity from minor misdemeanors all the way to serious acts of assault or committing a war crime. The severity of the allegations will determine what type of court-martial will convene to hear the case and help preserve the integrity of the military.

Q: What Are the Requirements for a Court-Martial?

A: A court-martial involves a number of requirements. To trigger a court-martial, a formal charge must be made against an active service member. Investigations must then move forward to look into the merit of the charges.
Next, preliminary hearings must be held to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. If so, the allegations will be explored in front of a military judge and jury to help reach an innocent or guilty verdict. The accused is welcome to hire legal representation to assist in this process.

Q: Who Initiates a Court-Martial?

A: The commanding officer who has jurisdiction over the individual accused of misconduct will initiate a court-martial. If the commanding officer has done this, it means they believe administrative duties would not be a strong enough punishment. The officer starts this process once they have been made aware of the alleged offense and an initial investigation reveals that it could have violated the UCMJ.

Contact Aaron Meyer Law Today

If you are facing a court-martial or are dealing with any other military issue, having a skilled attorney by your side can help. Contact Aaron Meyer Law today to help protect your rights and ensure your court-martial experience is handled in compliance with military law. We have spent years helping service members navigate these processes and would be honored to do the same for you.

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