Courts-martial in the United States are trials conducted by the U.S. military or by state militaries. Most commonly, courts-martial are convened to prosecute members of the U.S. military for criminal violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Courts-martial are convened by a convening authority who is typically the commanding officer/general/admiral of the accused’s unit. There are three forms of courts-martial and the convening authority chooses which form to convene based on the severity of the offenses. Click on the three forms of courts-martial below to learn more:General Court-Martial
A general court-martial is the most severe level of court-martial. This type of court-martial is commonly analogized with a federal felony level trial. The possible punishments available at this level of proceeding include confinement, reduction in rank, fines and forfeitures, and a punitive discharge (dishonorable, bad conduct, and dismissal). The maximum confinement time is based on the maximum punishment listed in the UCMJ article for the specific charged offense, but confinement times can range from months to life in prison, with a small number of offenses even have death as a maximum punishment. General courts-martial require a preliminary hearing prior to the convening authority referring them to trial. This preliminary hearing is similar to a grand jury hearing in the civilian criminal justice system.Special Court-Martial
A special court-martial is a less severe level of court-martial than the general court-martial. It is commonly analogized as a misdemeanor level trial, although depending on the type of offense, a state may view a conviction at this forum as equivalent to a state felony conviction. The possible punishments available at this level of proceeding are less severe than those available at general court-martial. The only punitive discharge available at special court-martial is a bad conduct discharge. Confinement time is capped at one year (or less depending on the type of charges). Reduction in rank as well as fines and forfeitures are also authorized punishments. Since the punishments available are less severe, the convening authority is not required to order a preliminary hearing (grand jury) before referring charges to a special court-martial.Summary Court-Martial
A summary court-martial is the least severe level of court-martial. This court-martial is available for minor offenses and is meant to streamline the process. An officer typically serves as the judge, prosecutor, and jury in this type of court-martial, while the accused typically represents himself at this trial. Because of the streamlined approach and the limited protections afforded to the accused at this forum, the accused can actually refuse to go to summary court-martial. Such a refusal usually results in the convening authority referring the charges to the next higher forum, a special court-martial. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney before refusing summary court-martial. The maximum punishments for a summary court-martial vary depending on the rank of the accused. For junior enlisted (E4 and below), maximum punishment is 30 days confinement, reduction to E1, forfeiture of 2/3 pay for one month, and restriction for two months. For more senior enlisted (E5 and above), confinement is not an option and maximum punishment is limited to reduction of one rank, forfeiture of 2/3 pay for one month, and two months restriction.