Finding out that you’re facing a court martial can bring feelings of dread and worry. Understanding what to expect during the court martial process can help take some of the mystery out of the proceedings. Even if you’re facing a stressful court martial proceeding, there are things that you can do to fight back and present your side of the story.
What’s a general court martial?
A court martial is another name for a military court proceeding. There are a few different types of court martial proceedings. A general court martial is the most serious type. A summary court martial and special court martial are two other types of proceedings.
The proceedings begin when a commanding officer signs a convening order. Once they sign a preferral, you have a right to assistance from a military court martial criminal lawyer. From there, your case proceeds to an arraignment, decisions on pretrial motions and finally to trial.
A general court martial is a very serious matter. These proceedings are often reserved for some of the most serious offenses. A conviction often means a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge.
You may also face loss of pay. Officials may want to send you to jail or prison. For very serious offenses, lifetime incarceration and even the death penalty may be on the table.
Proving the case against you
Even though a court martial is a very serious matter, government officials still have to prove their case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. That means an experienced general court martial criminal attorney can help you defend yourself against the charges against you. There are many stages of the proceedings where your attorney can help you advance your interests.
Your attorney can help you determine if you can bring any pretrial motions to help your case. These motions might allow you to keep out damaging evidence. This can help the jury decide the case based on only the allegations against you rather than based on unrelated things that are designed to paint you in a bad light to the jury. Pretrial motions help the court focus the case on only the most relevant facts, so that the jury can make a fair decision based on the law.
At trial, your court-martial attorney helps you admit evidence that the jury needs to hear. They help you object to inadmissible evidence that the government tries to enter against you. They help you tell your story to the jury, so that they can look at the entire circumstances of the case from your point of view.
Trying your case
A panel of military officers receive an appointment to decide your guilt or innocence. This is similar to the jury system in civilian court. However, in civilian court, a decision to convict you has to be unanimous. In a military court, you can receive a guilty verdict even if only 2/3 of the jurors believe you’re guilty.
The trial proceeds a lot like a criminal case might proceed in a civilian court. Your attorney can help you cross-examine witnesses and call witnesses of your own. They can also make an opening statement and a closing statement on your behalf. Once both sides present their case, the jury deliberates.
If you’re convicted, you need to present evidence of why you believe a certain sentence is appropriate in your case. You may also decide to pursue an appeal. Your military general court martial attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons to make a decision.
You have options
If you’re facing a military court martial, going to trial is only one of your options. You may be able to negotiate a resolution where you plead guilty in exchange for a reduction in the charges against you. You can work with your attorney in order to determine your priorities.
You may want to avoid prison or limit the amount of time that you spend incarcerated. It might be the most important for you to avoid a dishonorable discharge. It’s important to work with an attorney, so that you can understand all of the potential consequences that might follow from a certain course of action. Armed with this knowledge, you can have confidence to know that you’re making the best possible decisions in your case.