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Do you need an experienced attorney when facing a courts-martial?

According to a recent news release from the Judge Advocate General’s office, a U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. stationed at a domestic air force base was recently court-martialed on sexual abuse and assault charges.

As an attorney who focuses on national military law, I recommend that a service member who is court-martialed consult with a defense attorney at the earliest opportunity. As readers may know, military legal defense presents unique issues specific to that forum. 

For starters, the military courts-martial has its own laws, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Military Rules of Evidence. Both apply to all classifications of courts-martial. Although an accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the unique evidentiary and procedural rules of a military courtroom can make it difficult to mount a strong defense. 

The specific charges can influence the type of courts-martial. Minor charges might result in a summary court-martial, which is presided over by only one officer and usually imposes minor punishments, such as a pay grade reduction or possible confinement. More serious charges might implicate either a special court-martial or a general court-martial. Both of these forums involve a military judge, an optional jury of three or five officers, and more serious potential punishments. 

As in the civilian context, criminal charges can seriously damage an accused’s reputation and career, even if ultimately proven innocent. Although a service member may be assigned a JAG officer, a consultation with an experienced courts-martial defense lawyer might be a safer choice for mounting a strong defense. Some JAG officers might be fresh out of law school, possibly lacking in the trial strategy that only experience can provide. To learn more about the military’s investigative process that can culminate in charges, check out my firm’s website. 

Source: Air Force Times, “Airman faces court-martial on abusive sexual contact, assault charges,” Phillip Swarts, July 28, 2015

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