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What is a court-martial?

Did you just learn you’re under investigation? Are you facing court-martial? Read below for an overview.

A court-martial is the military’s form of a criminal prosecution, administered in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The consequences of a court-martial can include a federal conviction, prison time, and a punitive discharge. A punitive discharge is extraordinarily serious because it often results in a total loss of veterans benefits, and it is frequently asked about on civilian job applications.

While each branch of the military operates slightly differently, all courts-martial are governed by the UCMJ, the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM), and the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE). These authorities are collectively published in the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM).

In accordance with Article 16 of the UCMJ, there are three different types of courts-martial. The different courts-martial, each of which is governed by its own article, are as follows:

     — summary court-martial (which is a non-criminal forum);

     — special court-martial (which has a couple variations); &

     — general court-martial

A general court-martial is reserved for the most serious offenses, and is roughly the equivalent of a felony prosecution (although the military does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor offenses).

A military member facing court-martial will be “detailed” or assigned a military defense counsel free of charge. Thankfully, just as in the civilian world, military members also have the right to hire their own attorney. However, not just any attorney, even a criminal defense attorney, will handle a military court-martial.


Facing a court-martial can be an overwhelming experience. Sometimes things move extremely fast and it’s like a blur. Other times, the investigation is painfully slow and fosters crippling anxiety. No matter what, it is important to have someone in your corner who you can trust. Someone who can advocate for you. And someone who isn’t afraid to stand-up against long odds.

As a former active duty JAG officer and two-time defense counsel in the Air Force, Ross Brennan at Cronauer Law is a seasoned advocate in military court rooms. Contact Cronauer Law today for a free consultation with an experienced military criminal defense attorney.

To learn more about a court-martial in the military, see these related links:


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