Court-Martial Lawyers

When people think of a court-martial, they often think of the movie, A Few Good Men, and Jack Nicholson’s character yelling, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Hollywood moments in the courtroom are rare, but a court-martial is always a source of intense emotion for everyone involved. A federal conviction alone can have a severe impact, including the possibility of jail time and a punitive discharge. When you’re facing a court-martial, you need a seasoned and confident court-martial lawyer.

At Military Law, our court-martial lawyers have handled over 100 trials by court-martial. We know what is at stake for you, your family, and your future. You cannot afford to risk losing your best result.

Get Help Now

Court-Martial Lawyers Guide

What Is a Court-Martial?

A court-martial is a military criminal trial. It is the most serious method the military uses to handle alleged misconduct. Results can include a federal conviction, jail time, and a punitive discharge.

Unlike civilian court, in the military justice system a court-martial follows specific military rules. These rules are the same for all service branches:

  • Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM)
  • Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
  • Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM)
  • Military Rules of Evidence (MRE)

Is It Court-Martial or Courts-Martial?

Both are correct. You could be talking about a singular court-martial, or multiple courts-martial (plural). You will sometimes see it written incorrectly without the hyphen or with the plural “s” in the wrong place, as in “court martial” or “court-martials,” etc.

What Makes an Attorney Qualified to Represent You in A Court-Martial Process?

A civilian attorney licensed in any jurisdiction in the United States can represent service members in a court-martial. The military also states that its active duty military defense attorneys are qualified, but this is a very low bar of competency.

This does not mean they are the best attorney for you!

When your career, honor, freedom, and benefits are on the line, you need an experienced court-martial lawyer who knows the rules and the culture of the military. You deserve better than the junior military attorney who is getting on-the-job training when defending you. And better than a civilian criminal defense lawyer who only served a few years on active duty, or who never served at all.

You have the right to hire an experienced military defense attorney!

At Military Law, we rank among the best military defense attorneys.

We all served on active duty in the U.S. military. We were all top-rated as assigned military defense attorneys. We were all competitively promoted over our peers and continued to master military justice. As a law firm, we are 100% dedicated to military defense, for all service branches, all over the world. We stay sharp and effective because we do not practice any other kind of law, for any other clients. We are experienced and skilled in court-martial defense.

“Jeremy was positive, and the outcome was amazing. He saved my 18.5 years of service and now I can retire. Thank you again!”

Matt, Air Force client, NOT GUILTY VERDICT

Get Help Now

How Long Do Court-Martial Cases Take?

The average court-martial takes 3 to 4 days. The entire process, including the initial investigation, charging decisions, pretrial hearings, and the trial itself, can last a year or more.

Once the government formally serves you with a charge sheet, which is called “preferral,” you have the right to a speedy trial within 120 days, but delays can be approved through the chain of command or the military judge. If you are in pretrial confinement, there is a greater Constitutional right to a speedy trial.

In a court-martial, if there is a guilty finding, you will immediately enter a sentencing proceeding. Overall, a trial and sentencing hearing are held within a single duty week, excluding very rare and complex cases.

Can the Military Still Prosecute Me if The Civilian Police Dropped the Charges?

Yes, civilians can drop charges, and you can still face a court-martial.

The military and U.S. state governments are separate from each other. One is not bound to follow what the other does, and this is not a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against “double jeopardy.”

As a matter of policy, the military will request jurisdiction from the local state before deciding to prosecute, if the alleged offense did not occur on a military installation.

What Are the Different Types of Court-Martial?

There are 4 main types of court-martial: a summary court-martial, a judge alone special court-martial, a special court-martial, and a general court-martial.

Summary Court-Martial (SCM)

  • A finding of guilty is not a federal conviction
  • Can result in up to 30 days confinement
  • Cannot impose a punitive discharge
  • No right to a jury

Judge Alone Special Court-Martial (Judge Alone SPCM)

  • A finding of guilty is a federal conviction
  • Can result in up to 6 months confinement
  • Cannot impose a punitive discharge
  • No right to a jury

Special Court-Martial (SPCM)

  • A finding of guilty is a federal conviction
  • Can result in up to 12 months confinement
  • Can result in a bad conduct discharge (BCD)
  • Right to a panel of 4 members who outrank Accused
  • Enlisted can choose mixed panel of enlisted & officers
  • Can still choose trial by military judge alone, but this doesn’t turn it into a “Judge Alone SPCM” as stated above

General Court-Martial (GCM)

  • Right to a preliminary probable cause hearing (Article 32)
  • A finding of guilty is a federal conviction
  • Can result in the statutory max (years) of confinement
  • Can result in a dishonorable discharge (DD) or dismissal
  • Right to a panel of 8 members who outrank Accused
  • Enlisted can choose mixed panel of enlisted & officers
  • Can also choose trial by military judge alone

Does a Court-Martial Have Juries?

Yes, but a military jury, called a panel, is different than a civilian jury.

A civilian jury is a random cross-section of the local population, and verdicts are unanimous. When all members in a jury cannot agree on a verdict, then that is a hung jury and may lead to another trial.

A court-martial panel, the military equivalent of a jury, is different:

  • Panel members are selected by the chain of command
  • Panel members outrank the Accused
  • Panel verdicts are not unanimous; only a 3/4 vote is required

The military’s voir dire (jury selection) process is not as expansive as in civilian trials, but it is a critical stage that junior attorneys and those inexperienced in the military do not understand.

You need an experienced military defense attorney who knows how to root out and eliminate bias in your panel. You need someone who will connect with and persuade the people who will decide your future.

Get Help Now

Jeremy Snyder

Court-Martial Attorney, Jeremy Snyder

What Are My Rights in A Court-Martial?

You have several important pretrial rights, including:

  • To be informed of the charges
  • To equal access to witnesses and evidence
  • To request discovery and production of evidence
  • To request production of witnesses
  • To expert witness assistance, if warranted by the facts
  • To a speedy trial free from unreasonable delay

You have the right to choose your attorney. This can be an assigned military defense attorney, but this will be a junior attorney receiving on-the-job experience by defending you. You can request an individual military defense counsel (IMDC) if you know who you want to represent you, and if they are available.

You can also hire an experienced civilian defense attorney at your own expense. Your choice of attorney will not guarantee your result, but it can make a critical difference. Your attorney will plan and execute your defense strategy.

“Thank you for the hard work, late nights, and weekends. I appreciate you didn’t give up on me or my case, and your last-minute gut call.”

Adam, Air Force client, NOT GUILTY VERDICT

Your attorney will be responsible for exercising most of your important rights, including:

  • Right to request discovery of evidence and witnesses
  • Right to pretrial interviews with government witnesses
  • Right to file motions and make legal objections

(These can suppress evidence or get charges dropped!)

  • Right to voir dire (question) the court members for bias
  • Right to make an opening statement
  • Right to make legal objections during the trial
  • Right to cross-examine the government witnesses
  • Right to present evidence and call witnesses on your behalf
  • Right to testify in findings or sentencing

(Your attorney will prepare you to do this)

  • Right to make a closing argument to the court members

When you consider the high stakes of a court-martial, and the many ways that your attorney will shape the outcome, hiring an experienced military defense attorney is a smart investment.

Get Help Now

Should I Take a Plea Deal?

At Military Law, we explore every possible path to victory that will not include a federal conviction.

Our first goal is a full not guilty verdict (acquittal), and that is exactly what we get in many cases. When our clients seek to avoid risk, we negotiate resolutions that can include dropping all court-martial charges in exchange for an administrative discharge.

When we negotiate plea agreements, we use our investigative efforts and preparation to drive the hardest bargains to benefit the service member we represent.

Whether the goal is a full acquittal or a very favorable plea deal, the work involved is much the same. Preparing to win at trial is what creates bargaining power.

Too many military defense lawyers are willing to sign away their clients’ rights without applying experience and wisdom, and without putting in the hard work needed to develop a winning position. We have had clients hire us to evaluate and then back out of bad deals negotiated by assigned military defense lawyers.

“Mr. Snyder is a strong negotiator and will aggressively work to get
the best outcome. He responds back quickly and with answers.”

Nicholas, Air Force client, GREAT PLEA DEAL

At Military Law, we know what the best outcomes look like, and we are relentless in pursuing the best possible results, whether that means a full acquittal or some other favorable resolution.

Get Help Now

Is a Court-Martial Conviction a Felony?

Not under federal law. The military does not categorize offenses as misdemeanors or felonies.

However, a court-martial conviction is a federal conviction and will be reported to national databases. Depending on the charges, this may result in a ban on owning firearms. It may also result in a loss of voting rights. If the offense is a sexual offense, you would have to register as a sex offender in your home state.

The question of whether your home state will regard a court-martial conviction as a felony does not always have a clear answer. Some states will regard a court-martial conviction as a felony if the authorized punishment could have been greater than one year.

Can a Court-Martial Be Appealed?

Yes. Depending on the sentence adjudged, the following appeals may be available:

  • Review by the Judge Advocate General
  • Review by your service branch Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Review by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
  • Review by the U.S. Supreme Court

However, most of these appeals are discretionary, and relief on appeal is not typical. Your best chance of victory is always at the trial level.

There is no substitute for experience!

We excelled as assigned O-3 military defense lawyers, and we mastered our skills as military advocates at the O-4 and O-5 levels. This is not just an assignment. This is our profession and our calling.

Get Help Now