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Member Selection in Courts-Martial

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | Dec 02, 2015 | 0 Comments

In most (but not all) courts-martial, the members decide the fate of the accused. “Who are the members?” you ask? Unlike civilian courts, the military justice system does not have juries composed of jurors. Instead, there are panels composed of members. The members bear the responsibility of deciding the guilt or innocence of the person standing trial. So, you might be wondering, how are the members chosen? To learn more about member selection in courts-martial, please scroll down.

Member Selection in Courts-Martial


First of all, it is important to note that the accused can request to be tried by judge alone in special courts-martial and general courts-martial. In addition, the accused can request that his or her panel includes enlisted service members. If they do so, at least one-third of the members on the panel must be enlisted personnel.


There are three types of court-martial: summary, special, and general. Summary courts-martial, the lowest level, do not have panels at all. Special courts-martial must have at least three panel members, and general courts-martial must have at least five panel members. However, sometimes there will be more than a dozen members on a panel.

Members of the court are selected from members of the armed forces. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the foundation of military law in the United States, the member selection in courts-martial is the responsibility of the convening authority. The convening authority is the person who convenes the court-martial, and they have several important responsibilities. To learn more about the convening authority and their role within the trial, please check out this previous blog post.

The convening authority personally selects the members who will sit on the panel. Some army jurisdictions have standing panels (which serve for several months), while other branches, like the Air Force, select a new panel before each trial. The convening authority must choose members who are qualified to serve on the panel based on their age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament. In addition, the members must be at or above the rank of the accused.


The judge and counsel may take part in the member selection process in a procedure known as voir dire, which allows the judge, defense counsel, and prosecution counsel to question panel members. In rooting out members with bias, these individuals can help ensure that the trial is fair.


Critics of the current process for member selection in courts-martial sometimes suggest implementing facets of the civilian jury selection process. For example, some suggest using a random selection procedure to limit the convening authority's power. Although the process could change in the future, for now, the convening authority retains the right to select the members of the panel.

If you or someone you know is preparing for a court-martial, contact the top-quality lawyers at Newsom & Gapasin. Whether you're under investigation or facing a court-martial, 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!

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Ernesto Gapasin



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