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What are the potential penalties from a general court-martial?

A recent example illustrates the serious consequences that can result from a general court-martial. The accused was convicted of a child pornography possession charge. In addition to a bad conduct discharge, the Coast Guard petty officer’s punishments include 30 months of military confinement, pay and allowances forfeitures, and a pay grade reduction.

As background, a military court-martial functions similarly to a criminal trial in the civilian context, with attorneys for each party and a judge. A jury may even be present, depending on the type of court-martial. If you are facing military charges, a law firm that focuses on military defense can help you understand the consequences you might be facing, in addition to preparing a strong defense.

Although courts-martial are criminal trials, the procedures and potential consequences differ dramatically, depending on the level of courts-martial. Listed from lowest to highest, the types are summary, special or general.

Summary courts-martial are generally reserved for minor offenses, where an officer presides as judge. Only civilian defense attorneys are allowed to represent the accused in this forum, rather than military defense counsel. A jury is also usually not present. Punishments are also limited, such as confinement for a few weeks or a pay reduction. 

The middle level of military criminal trial is called a special court-martial, where a military judge, prosecutor and defense counsel, and optional jury of three or more officers are present. Notably, a bad conduct discharge can be one of the outcomes of this trial.

The highest level of courts-martial is the general court-martial. If the accused requests a jury, the minimum number of jurors is five officers, and a formal investigation called an Article 32 hearing must precede the trial. Punishments may include life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, and possibly the death penalty. 

Source: military.com, “Coast Guard Petty Officer Receives 30 Months Confinement,” Nov. 11, 2015

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