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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Military Justice: Courts-Martial, An Overview

R. Chuck Mason
Legislative Attorney

A string of recent high profile military-related cases, including Maj. Nidal Hasan, the alleged shooter at Fort Hood, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged source of leaked classified materials through the organization WikiLeaks, has resulted in increased public and congressional interest in military discipline and the military justice system. In the criminal law system, some basic objectives are to discover the truth, acquit the innocent without unnecessary delay or expense, punish the guilty proportionately with their crimes, and prevent and deter further crime, thereby providing for the public order. Military justice shares these objectives in part, but also serves to enhance discipline throughout the Armed Forces, serving the overall objective of providing an effective national defense.

Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to raise and support armies; provide and maintain a navy; and provide for organizing and disciplining them. Under this authority, the Congress has enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is the code of military criminal laws applicable to all U.S. military members worldwide. The President implemented the UCMJ through the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). The Manual for Courts-Martial contains the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM), the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE), and the UCMJ. Members of the Armed Forces are subjected to rules, orders, proceedings, and consequences different from the rights and obligations of their civilian counterparts and the UCMJ establishes this unique legal framework.

The UCMJ authorizes three types of courts-martial: (1) summary court-martial; (2) special courtmartial; and (3) general court-martial. Depending on the severity of the alleged offense, the accused’s commanding officer enjoys great discretion with respect to the type of court-martial to convene. Generally, each of the courts-martial provides fundamental constitutional and procedural rights to the accused, including, but not limited to, the right to a personal representative or counsel, the opportunity to confront evidence and witnesses, and the right to have a decision reviewed by a lawyer or a court of appeals. The chart that concludes this report compares selected procedural safeguards employed in criminal trials in federal criminal court with parallel protective measures in military general courts-martial.

Date of Report: March 31, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41739
Price: $29.95

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