What Is a Court-Martial?

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | Jul 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

What is a court-martial? Although most civilians have heard the term court-martial and know that it relates to the military, they don't always understand what a court-martial is or why it exists.

The first thing you need to know is that the United States military has its own justice system. When a member of the armed forces commits a crime, they are typically tried in a military court, though this does depend on where the crime was committed and whether the crime violates military law, civilian law, or both. Although you could simply call it a military court, there is a more proper name . . . Can you guess it?

A court-martial, of course!

What Is a Court-Martial?

What Is a Court-Martial?

A court-martial is, quite simply, a military court. During a court-martial, members of the armed forces who have been accused of a crime are determined to be guilty or innocent, and if they are found guilty, their punishment is determined. Courts-martial exist in many countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, India, and Egypt, but today we're focusing on the American military justice system.


A court-martial is an adversarial proceeding, which means that lawyers (representing the government and the accused) present the facts and arguments, a judge determines questions of law, and a panel determines questions of fact. In some courts-martial, however, a panel is not used and the judge determines both questions of law and questions of fact. Although the accused is provided with a free military defense lawyer, many military members facing court-martial choose to hire a civilian lawyer with greater talent and experience instead. Their rights under the UCMJ allow them to choose the military-appointed lawyer, a civilian lawyer, or both.


There are three different types of courts-martial: summary, special, and general. Summary courts-martial are used to review minor charges, special courts-martial deal with intermediate procedures, and general courts-martial are reserved for the most serious offenses. To learn more about how each type works, check out this previous blog post.


Like in a civilian court, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution must show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by presenting evidence. For the accused to be sentenced to death (though this is unlikely), everyone on the panel must vote “guilty,” but in all other cases only a two-thirds majority is needed. The panel or the judge who determined whether the accused was guilty or not will provide the sentence, and the severity of the crime will dictate the severity of the sentence.


If you or someone you know is preparing for a court-martial, contact the top-quality lawyers at Gapasin Law Group, LLC. 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-UCMJ (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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