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Can an unfavorable courts-martial be appealed?

In the civil arena, a party that loses at trial may have appeal options. In the military system, however, a recent article suggests that there is inadequate appellate review.

Specifically, the author claims that the military’s courts-martial system needs to be restructured to provide more meaningful appeal opportunities. As a result of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, courts-martial function like judicial, rather than administrative proceedings. The appellate structure was further changed in 1983, when Congress created an ultimate appeal right to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

However, military law also states that appeals are available only in enumerated cases, unless the The Judge Advocate General, or TJAG, has certified the appeal. Although that certification route may have been intended to allow minor courts-martial cases to pursue appeals, that rationale has not been accomplished. Rather, the article alleges that certification is generally not granted, as a matter of discretion. Without jurisdiction or certification, many courts-martial may lack an appeal option

As a court-martial appeals attorney, I know that service members may feel as if there were nowhere to turn after an unfavorable outcome. However, there may be options available that will enable an appeal to a higher court. Pursuing an appeal may be a worthwhile effort even if it does not overturn a conviction. In some cases, it may be possible to reduce a sentence.

If you believe that a conviction for a courts-martial offense was based on factual errors presented at trial, certain procedural mistakes or outright misinterpretations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, don’t delay in consulting with a military law attorney. 

Source: Just Security, “The Alarming Gaps in Military Appellate Review,” Steve Vladeck, Aug. 26, 2015

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