What Is a Special Court-Martial?

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | Oct 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

What is a special court-martial, and why is it so special? At the intermediate level of the military court system, special courts-martial are used to try members of the military who have committed minor crimes, which can be likened to civilian misdemeanors. The potential punishments are not as severe as those you might find in a general court-martial (where personnel accused of major crimes are tried), but they are more significant than the punishments found in summary courts-martial. To help you better understand special courts-martial, today we'll answer some common questions regarding the procedures, the possible punishments, and the rights of the accused.

What Is a Special Court-Martial?

Who is present at a special court-martial?

Of course the accused will attend with their counsel, also known as the defense counsel. In addition, there will be a military judge, trial counsel (i.e., the prosecutor), and at least three officers acting as members (i.e., jurors). If the accused is enlisted, he or she can request that at least one-third of the jury be composed of enlisted personnel. In addition, if they prefer, the accused can request to be tried by a judge only.

What are the potential punishments?

Different offenses have different potential punishments, but the maximum punishment for someone found guilty by special court-martial would include all of the following:

  • Year-long confinement
  • Up to three months of hard labor without confinement
  • Forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for up to one year
  • Reduction in pay grade
  • Bad conduct discharge (which is only allowable in certain circumstances)

An officer found guilty, however, cannot be dismissed from the armed forces or confined. Finally, several punishments are forbidden during special courts-martial, including death, dishonorable discharge, and dismissal.

Who defends the accused?

In a special court-martial, the accused is appointed a military lawyer free of charge. However, he or she can also choose to hire a civilian attorney. If the accused would like, they can use both the military lawyer and a civilian attorney.

What are the rights of the accused?

The accused has the following rights before a special court-martial:

  • The right to consult with counsel
  • The right to inspect all documents and physical evidence in the case
  • The right to know the charges, the name of the accuser, the name of the SCMCA, and the date of referral
  • The right to know who will appear as government witnesses
  • The right to call witnesses and present evidence on your own behalf
  • The right to present motions
  • The right to know the maximum sentence possible in the case

The accused also has the following rights during a special court-martial:

  • The right to plead guilty or not guilty
  • The right to cross-examine government witnesses
  • The right to testify on your own behalf
  • The right to remain silent (with the assurance that the commanding officer will not come to an unfavorable conclusion due to your silence)


If you or someone you know is preparing for a special 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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