There are three forms of court-martial: summary, special, and general. Each has different conditions for appealing rulings.
A Summary Court-Martial
At a summary court-martial, you can appeal a conviction to the next level of command higher if you do so within five days of being sentenced. That higher-ranked commander may decide to leave your punishment as is, reduce your sentence, or eliminate your punishment altogether. The one thing they cannot do is increase your punishment.
In a summary court-martial, you do not have the right to appeal your conviction to a military appeals court. However, if the senior commander’s ruling is unsatisfactory, the decision can possibly be appealed to a judge advocate or the Judge Advocate General and potentially the Board of Correction of Military Records.
Special and General Courts-Martial
Both special and general court-martial convictions can be appealed through a military court of appeals. In both cases, though, all court-martial rulings are sent to the convening authority (the referring person who suggested that the case be seen by a court-martial). The referring party can reduce, eliminate, or leave the punishment as is but cannot increase the punishment. The convening authority has the option to consult a judge advocate to advise them in their decision.
Right to an Attorney
In the event of an appeal, the convicted party has the right to a defense attorney, whether a civilian defense attorney (paid for out of pocket) or a free military attorney. While a free military defense attorney can be a good lawyer, they typically do not have as much time to dedicate to cases or experience in successful cases as a private attorney does.
The Four Military Courts of Appeal
There are four criminal appeal courts in the military:
- The Army Court of Criminal Appeals
- The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals
- The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals
- The Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals
The branch of armed forces that coincides with the branch of the convicted individual automatically reviews all cases that include a sentence of more than one year of confinement or a punitive (disciplinary) discharge, including death penalty cases. The purpose of this is to revisit the case to determine whether the convicted service member asserted their innocence during the court proceedings and voluntarily pleaded guilty.
Other cases may be reviewed as well at the court’s discretion. If a case does not result in penalties that qualify it for automatic review, the individual may make a special request that the Judge Advocate General submit their case for review to the court of appeals, but these requests are usually denied.
The Role of Military Courts of Appeal
The appropriate military court of appeal reviews cases to determine if the convicted service member was proven guilty in a proper manner and beyond a reasonable doubt. They are also charged with investigating any questions of legal error that may have taken place during the legal process of proving the individual in question guilty. Once again, the court of appeal has the option to leave the sentence as is, reduce the penalties, or eliminate the penalties, but they cannot increase the punishment.
If a convicted service member is not granted a reduced or eliminated penalty that is satisfactory, they can further appeal their judgment to the Court of Appeals of their coinciding branch, but again, these requests are typically not obliged. These four military courts of appeal are appellate courts, and they do not revisit any facts or evidence used in determining a guilty verdict. Rather, they review potential legal errors made by lower courts.
As a Last Resort
When a convicted and penalized service member has no other option for an appeal or review of their judgment, they may file a writ of habeas corpus with a criminal appeals military court at a lower level or the branch-specific Court of Appeals. These requests for appeals are rarely granted, nor are similar requests of the US Supreme Court.
The final option for convicted service members is a request for clemency, or pardon, from the convening authority or from a clemency and parole board. A clemency request may result in the setting aside of a conviction or the reduction of penalties. A request for clemency must be done following the sentencing but before the case is closed.
There are certain prerequisites for a court-martial:
- There must be jurisdiction over the offense.
- There must be personal jurisdiction over the defendant.
- The court must be comprised of suitably qualified individuals.
- The court-martial must be established by someone with the authorization to convene it.
- The charges must be properly referred by an appropriate authority.
Contact Aaron Meyer Law
Anyone in the process of a court-martial appeal or review has a right to a private, civilian attorney, and therefore, anyone amid a court-martial appeal should have an experienced private defense attorney to increase the chances of a potentially optimized result. With a knowledgeable and successful military defense attorney protecting your rights on your behalf, the likelihood of getting a reduced or eliminated sentence increases. Contact Aaron Meyer Law to discuss your case today.