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Are there efforts to reform the courts-martial process?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice criminalizes behaviors that might be inconsequential or even commonplace in the civilian context, such as fraternization, missing work or insubordination. In the military, such behaviors could result in prosecution in the form of a court-martial. If that proceeding results in a conviction, severe punishments may attach, including a loss of one's military benefits and/or discharge. 

Yet not every offense translates into a court-martial proceeding. A service member's chain of command has a great deal of discretion to determine how an alleged offense will be handed. The options include judicial punishment, administrative actions or not referring an offense in the first place. 

There have been proposals to change the process used for determining whether an accused will be court-martialed, such as the Military Justice Improvement Act. Until such proposals become law, however, a service member will continue to be subject to the initial inquiry performed by his or her commanding officer. If that inquiry escalates into a court-martial, a service member facing charges may benefit from the skilled representation of an attorney who focuses on military law.

Notably, the military may offer a free military lawyer to an accused, depending on the type of courts-martial. For special or general courts-martial, such representation is generally offered. Free defense counsel may not be available to someone facing a summary court-martial for a minor offense. In all types of proceedings, however, a civilian lawyer can provide a fresh set of eyes and perspective to one's military defense.

My military defense strategy begins with an examination of whether a court-martial can be avoided in the first place. For that reason, a service member might benefit from a consultation with an attorney even in the initial inquiry stage. 

Source: FindLaw, "Military Criminal Law," copyright 2015, Thomson Reuters

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