Military Law - Court Martial Appeals
Being convicted at summary, special or general court-martial can be a life-changing event and can result in lengthy incarceration. But courts-martial aren’t always fair or error free, and any military member has the option to appeal their conviction. At Aviso Law, our military law attorneys have represented military clients in some of the nation’s highest-profile appeals. With significant appellate experience, and also a background as trial lawyers, we are experts in the area of military law and the military appeals processes. We serve the Colorado Springs area with the ultimate combination of amazing customer service and aggressive, individualized representation.
Each military branch has its own court of criminal appeals that hears all of the cases out of the trial level courts and has the authority to reverse convictions and correct errors at the trial level. The next level above the criminal appeals court is the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). This court consists of judges that are appointed by the President of the United States. CAAF hears a select number of cases that are appealed from each service’s court of criminal appeals. The CAAF is the highest-level appellate court in the military. The only higher appellate court than CAAF is the United States Supreme Court.
Though military members have a right to be represented by appointed lawyers at the appellate level, these attorneys do not always have the appellate expertise as civilian military appellate attorneys. We, on the contrary, have experience in both areas and can represent you effectively to get the best possible results.
The Court Martial Process
A court-martial is a military judicial proceeding for trying members of the armed forces accused of offenses under military law. The process is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in the United States, and similar systems exist in other countries. The court-martial process can be complex, and it generally consists of several key stages:
- Investigation: The court-martial process often begins with an investigation into alleged misconduct or criminal behavior by a military member. This investigation may be conducted by military law enforcement, such as the military police, or by other investigative bodies within the armed forces.
- Preferral of Charges: If there is sufficient evidence, charges may be "preferred" against the accused. This involves formally accusing the service member of specific offenses. The charges are then forwarded to the convening authority, typically a senior officer in the accused person's chain of command.
- Convening Authority's Decision: The convening authority decides whether to refer the charges to a court-martial. They may decide to dismiss the charges, handle the matter through non-judicial punishment, or refer the case to a court-martial.
- Article 32 Hearing: Before a general court-martial, there is usually an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding. This hearing determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a court-martial. The accused has the right to be present, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses during this hearing.
- Referral to Court-Martial: If the convening authority decides to proceed, they refer the case to a court-martial. The charges are then "forwarded" to a specific court-martial, which may be a summary court-martial, special court-martial, or general court-martial, depending on the severity of the charges.
- Arraignment: The accused is formally informed of the charges against them during the arraignment. They are also advised of their rights, including the right to legal representation.
- Plea Bargaining: Similar to civilian criminal proceedings, there may be opportunities for plea bargaining, where the accused agrees to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
- Court-Martial Trial: The court-martial trial itself includes the presentation of evidence, examination of witnesses, and legal arguments. The accused has the right to be represented by a military defense attorney or a civilian attorney, or they may choose to represent themselves.
- Deliberation and Verdict: The military panel (jury) or judge, depending on the type of court-martial, deliberates and reaches a verdict. A unanimous decision is required for a general court-martial, while a special court-martial may have a majority verdict.
- Sentencing: If the accused is found guilty, a separate sentencing phase occurs. The panel or judge determines the appropriate punishment, which may include confinement, fines, reduction in rank, and other disciplinary actions.
- Appeals: The accused has the right to appeal the court-martial verdict and sentence. The appeals process typically involves higher military courts and, ultimately, civilian appellate courts.
It's important to note that the court-martial process can vary depending on the nature and severity of the charges, as well as the type of court-martial involved. Additionally, military members have specific rights and protections under the UCMJ. Consulting with a military defense attorney is crucial for individuals facing court-martial proceedings to ensure their rights are protected throughout the process.
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Breaking the Mold
We’re not your typical law firm. We don’t wear fancy suits (unless we have to in court) and we don’t hide behind big imposing desks. Reflective on our military roots, we strive to serve. We understand the legal process can be threatening and worrisome, which is why we work with our clients to get results. We aim to be respectful, diligent, and cost-effective while practicing the highest standards of legal representation.