In the moment before a verdict is announced at a court-martial, a million thoughts will likely race through the mind of the accused. Do I have a good chance at being deemed innocent? If I'm guilty, what will my sentence be? How will this verdict affect my life? Amongst your doubts, fears, and hopes, however, remember that if the verdict is guilty, you can still use the appeals process to prove that the conviction is unwarranted and overturn the verdict. And luckily, learning how to appeal a court-martial is quite simple.
How to Appeal a Court-Martial
Why is it so easy to appeal your conviction? Well, in many cases, verdicts are automatically reviewed. The review process depends on the type of court-martial:
- Summary Court-Martial: A summary court-martial is the lowest level of military court. At this level, appeals are uncommon. The accused can request a review in the event of new evidence, suspicion of fraud, lack of jurisdiction, a prejudicial error, or the appropriateness of the sentence. Consult your lawyer to begin the appeals process.
- Special Court-Martial: A summary court-martial is the intermediate level of military court. Every special court-martial conviction is reviewed automatically by the convening authority (i.e., the person who referred the case for court-martial). The convening authority can reduce the sentence/charge, but they cannot increase it.
- General Court-Martial: A summary court-martial is the highest level of military court. Every general court-martial conviction is reviewed automatically by the convening authority. The convening authority can reduce the sentence/charge, but they cannot increase it.
THE NEXT STEP
Beyond these initial reviews, you also have the ability to appeal to your branch of the military's Court of Appeals if the convening authority's review proves unsatisfactory. There are four courts: the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals. Some charges are reviewed at this level automatically, such as a bad conduct discharge, dishonorable discharge, confinement of a year or more, dismissal of an officer, and death.
Your branch's Court of Appeals will review the case, hunt for legal errors that affected the verdict, and evaluate the appropriateness of the punishment. In addition, as defendants must be proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the court will assess whether or not guilt was adequately demonstrated through facts and evidence. Finally, the court will also review the defendant's plea if they pled guilty. In the end, the Court of Appeals can change the sentence, but they cannot impose a harsher punishment.
THE LAST RESORT
What if you are unsatisfied with the convening authority's review and the review conducted by your branch's Court of Appeals? At this point, you will have one final option: an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Although any person sentenced to death is automatically eligible to apply to this court, all others will need to petition for the right. In addition, it is important to note that instead of reviewing the original case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces only looks for errors made in the previous appeals court.
Finally, some cases may petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is extremely rare, and the Supreme Court has discretion over which cases it will hear.
To ensure that your appeal goes smoothly, contact the top-quality lawyers at Newsom & Gapasin. You have the right to an attorney at every level of the appeals process, and our experienced and aggressive law firm would be happy to help. We focus on winning tough cases, some of which have been reported on by national media outlets like CNN, Fox News, Time, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. For more information, please give us a call at 1-(888) 919-8265 , send an e-mail to [email protected], or click here to contact us online. We look forward to hearing from you!