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

Facing any criminal trial can be an overwhelming experience, no matter what the charges may be. However, for those who serve in the military, criminal charges can carry severe implications as they could impact your ability to provide for your family through your military service. Depending on the severity of your charges, you could end up in a special court-martial. You may have many questions, such as, “What is the maximum sentence for a special court-martial?”

With the help of a special court-martial defense attorney, you can better navigate this process.

The decisions you make in the process could have an impact on the penalty outcome that you could receive.

Special Court-Martials

If you are arrested for a crime in the military, your legal journey will begin with an Article 32 hearing. This process, much like a grand jury trial, is designed to review the facts of the case to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward with a criminal trial, known as a court-martial. The outcome of the Article 32 hearing will include a recommendation on which type of court-martial your case will move to.

There are three types of court-martial trials, including summary, special, and general court-martial. A special court-martial is used when the crime is mild in nature. Comparative crimes in the civilian legal system are misdemeanor crimes or minor crimes that are considered to violate acceptable military behaviors. If there are violations that require a special court-martial, the process will be outlined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

In a special court-martial, the accused will face a trial that consists of a military panel that serves as the jury and is overseen by a military judge. The panel will consist of no less than three individuals, and the accused may request that one-third of the panel include enlisted personnel. This accused, however, could also request that the panel is not present, and that the court-martial be overseen by a military judge only, and that they be empowered to impose penalties.

The decision to use a panel or a judge could have implications on the penalties that you could receive.

Penalties for a Special Court-Martial

If convicted of a crime under a special court-martial, you could face a number of penalties that range in severity but are equivalent penalties to those that might be imposed for a misdemeanor crime. The maximum penalties that you could face if convicted include:

  • Up to one year of confinement
  • A forfeiture for all or parietal pay for up to a year
  • For non-officers, a demotion in rank
  • Hard labor for a term of up to three months
  • A discharge from the military for bad behavior

These penalties, and others that could be imposed within the limits of the law for the crime, can have a detrimental impact on your military career. These maximum penalties apply to special court-martials that include a military panel.

If you are accused and elect to proceed with the court-martial without a panel and only with a judge, the penalties could change. While the risk of a guilty verdict may increase as there is only one individual who is deciding the outcome, the penalties you face from a judge-only special court-martial are harmful but less detrimental. In a judge-only special court-martial, two significant changes in maximum penalties include:

  • Confinement of up to six months
  • Forfeiture or reduction of pay for a period of six months

In addition to these reductions, a discharge for bad conduct is not possible either. However, the judge could impose other penalties, such as hard labor, as long as those penalties are within the bounds of the law.

In a special court-martial, you have the right to representation from both a military attorney and a civilian attorney who can not only help argue your case to avoid such penalties but also help ensure your legal rights are further protected throughout the process. With both a civilian attorney and a military attorney, you gain extensive experience with the law combined with extensive knowledge on military legal proceedings.


Q: How Long Is a Court-Martial Sentence?

A: The length of a sentence in a court-martial depends on a number of factors, the greatest of which is the type of court-martial. According to the Department of Defense, a general court-martial could result in any sentence greater than 6 months up to a sentence of death. A special court-martial could result in a sentence of up to one year. A summary court-martial could mean a sentence of up to 45 days.

Q: What Is a Special Court-Martial?

A: A special court-martial is a military tribunal process that occurs after an Article 32 trial has found military personnel to be in violation of the law or appropriate military behavior. This type of court-martial is designed to process cases that involve crimes similar to those of a misdemeanor and impose penalties that align with any conviction of such convictions.

Q: How Long Does a Special Court-Martial Take?

A: The exact length of time that a court-martial could take can vary depending on the circumstances of the trial. Generally speaking, the court-martial process, including the selection of the panel, will last between 2 and 6 days. However, when including the Article 32 investigation and evidence discovery, the whole process could take months.

Q: Do Military Court-Martials Show Up on Background Checks?

A: Military convictions can show up on criminal background checks for civilians. Depending on the charges, the general or special court-martial conviction could mean that your criminal background check will reveal a federal conviction. Some crimes, however, do not have a civilian equivalent, but that does not mean they will not appear.

Special Court-Martial Defense Attorney

Military trials can be confusing and challenging. If you are charged with a crime while serving in the military, you could face a special court-martial. Knowing the exact type of penalties you could face can be difficult to predict. Get the help that you deserve from Aaron Meyer Law. Contact us today.

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