What Is a Special Court-Martial?

For those entrusted with protecting the freedoms and safety of American citizens around the world, the honor of serving can be filled with a sense of pride and selflessness. Unfortunately, even heroes can face legal trouble. With the help of a special court-martial defense attorney, you can better understand the challenges you may face. You may even be wondering, “What is a special court-martial?”

Knowing what to expect in a legal military proceeding can help you navigate the complex military legal system.

Types of Court-Martials

The court-martial process is outlined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Manual for Courts-Martial United States. According to these statutes, the entire military legal process is outlined, including how the crimes are investigated, by whom, and how punishments are handed down. There are three types of court-martials which are: summary, special, and general. The specific type of court-martial you could face is determined by the type of offense that you face and the potential penalties you could receive.

A special court-martial is composed of a three-member panel and includes a military judge. Civilian crimes are classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A special court-martial handles cases that are comparable to misdemeanors. The rank of the individual accused is not a factor in who could face such a trial, including those enlisted, classified as an officer, or a midshipman. Whether or not you face a special court-martial is dependent on the outcome of an Article 32 hearing.

An Article 32 hearing is much like a grand jury trial for civilians in which there is a determination of evidence to issue an indictment.

Potential Penalties in a Special Court-Martial

Because a special court-martial handles military criminal actions that are comparable to a misdemeanor, the types of penalties the accused could face if convicted will be at the lower end of possibilities, but it is important to know that a person found guilty could still face severe consequences that could impact their military career. Potential consequences in a special court-martial include:

  • Confinement up to 12 months
  • A forfeiture of two-thirds pay for up to a year
  • A demotion of rank
  • Three months of hard labor
  • A bad conduct discharge

Just like in civilian court, the accused service member has the right to a defense attorney who could be appointed, or they could hire the services of a civilian attorney.

Hiring a Civilian Attorney for a Court-Martial

For some accused, hiring a civilian attorney may not seem beneficial for a military case, but the facets of a court-martial are similar to those of criminal defense. While hiring an attorney could mean greater out-of-pocket expenses for your case, you could gain a significant amount of knowledge and experience for your legal defense that such an attorney could bring with them.

Civilian attorneys may have greater criminal trial experience as they tend to focus their practice on a specific area of the law. An added benefit is that you are still able to retain your military counsel as a part of your defense team. This means you not only have extensive legal knowledge about the military but also about the law working in unison for you.

The Rights of the Accused in a Special Court-Martial

Just as in civilian courts, a person charged and tried under a special court-martial is entitled to certain rights by which they are protected through the criminal justice process. These, much like the Miranda rights, include:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to review any documents and evidence that may be involved in the case
  • The right to know the names of any government witnesses
  • The name and date of the Summary Court-Martial Convening Authority that is referring to the case
  • To present motions, witnesses, and evidence on their own behalf

The protections provided by these rights are designed to help ensure the accused receives a fair proceeding. In addition to these rights, the accused may also request that the military panel acting as a jury has at least one-third of its members be enlisted personnel. They may also request that the entire court-martial be presided over and decided by a judge alone as opposed to the panel.


Q: What Happens in a Special Court-Martial?

A: Knowing what happens in a special court-martial can help you be prepared should you find yourself in a situation that involves this process. In this type of court-martial, an accused faces a criminal trial in front of a military jury panel and a military judge. This process has the ability to issue penalties that align with many penalties associated with a misdemeanor in civilian court.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a Special and General Court-Martial?

A: The difference between a special court-martial and a general court-martial is mostly associated with the types of crimes that are tried. While a special court-martial focuses on crimes that align more with misdemeanors, a general court-martial can apply to any charge, but is mostly used for serious charges that more align with felonies.

Q: Which Types of Crimes Does a Special Court-Martial Focus On?

A: Special court-martials are designed to try cases that are not as severe as those that qualify for a general court-martial and are considered minor to mid-level crimes. These misdemeanor types of crimes can still carry significant penalties that could include discharge from military service. The crimes addressed in these trials, while not severe, still breach acceptable military discipline.

Q: What Is the Maximum Sentence for a Special Court-Martial?

A: The maximum sentence that an accused could face in a special court-martial could include confinement for up to one year, a reduction or revocation of pay for a period of one year, a rank demotion, serving a term of hard labor, or discharge from the military. The judge or panel in the case could assign other punishments within the bounds of the law.

Special Court-Martial Defense Attorney

Military cases are complex and can be filled with many challenges. However, if you face the possibility of a special court-martial, you could be filled with many questions that can lead to worry and confusion. Get the answers you need to help navigate the process. Contact Aaron Meyer Law today and let our team help.

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