What to Expect and Where Servicemembers Can Find Help
When accused of a crime, whether you’re a civilian or active duty, you need help from a skilled lawyer with the right experience. Someone who can navigate your unique situation. At Canyons Law Group, that’s exactly what we have: a team of skilled lawyers who can guide and advise you outside the courtroom, and vigorously defend you and your rights in the courtroom. Whether you are facing criminal charges in the civilian system or a court martial in the military justice system, our team of attorneys has the experience necessary to help you obtain the results you need.
A civilian attorney can work alongside your appointed military lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected.
Military Justice v. Civilian Court Systems
The military justice system is similar to our civilian justice system. You have many of the same rights, face many of the same crimes and some of the same punishments. But there are some significant differences.
In civilian courts, the terms “misdemeanor” and “felony” are used to designate the severity of the law broken. The military justice system does not use these terms. Instead, three types of courts martial are used for different offense levels. The most serious charges (roughly equivalent to a felony in a civilian court) are brought in a general court-martial proceeding. Lower level charges (similar in severity to a civilian misdemeanor charge) are brought in a special court-martial proceeding. Minor misconduct may be dealt with through a summary court-martial or under Article 15.
Similar to the felony-misdemeanor distinction in civilian criminal justice systems, these different levels of courts martial determine the maximum punishment and, often most importantly, the affect a court-martial conviction may have
Being convicted in a court martial does not equate with a civilian criminal conviction. Further, court-martial proceedings do not act as a bar to separate prosecution in a civilian court for the same conduct. It is possible to face prosecution in both the military and civilian court systems.
Court Martial – Timeline and Processes
The court-martial process starts when someone on active duty is accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Formally, this accusation is called preferral. Preferral is usually done by the servicemember’s commander but it can be done by anyone that is subject to the UCMJ.
Following preferral, a court martial must normally be initiated within 120 days of preferral. But there are various ways this 120-day deadline can be extended.
Pretrial Confinement Options
Pretrial confinement is rare in the military. It usually happens when someone has deserted in order to avoid the court martial process or when they continue to engage in misconduct. When it does occur, there must be a review within 72 hours by a neutral officer. Pretrial confinement also starts the 120 day speedy trial clock.
Preliminary Hearing and Pretrial Agreement
In a General Court Martial, there must be an Article 32 Preliminary Hearing where the Probable cause Hearing Officer (called a PHO) reviews the evidence to ensure that probable cause exists to believe a crime was committed and the accused committed it. The government has the burden of proving there is probable cause. But probable cause is a low burden of proof and is usually met easily.
Following the preliminary hearing, many cases are resolved through a pretrial agreement (called a PTA). PTAs are a contract between the accused and the commander that convenes the court martial. In the agreement, the accused agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a limit on his/her sentence. It does not set the punishment but rather sets the limit so that the accused can be sentenced to a lesser sentence by a judge or jury but cannot be sentenced a greater punishment.
Not-Guilty Plea and Trial
If a PTA is not reached, the accused may enter a not-guilty plea. The court martial then proceeds to trial.
The military version of a “jury” is a panel of officers, and sometimes enlisted servicemembers. All members of the panel must be of higher rank than the accused.
As in a criminal trial in civilian court, both sides can present evidence and call witnesses, and the government has the burden of proving its case. Based on the legally-required presumption of innocence, the defense has no obligation to call any witnesses or present any evidence.
After evidence and argument are presented, the panel deliberates and makes a decision. Unlike a civilian criminal jury, the panel is not required to be unanimous. Three-fourths of the panel must agree in order to be convicted. There are no hung juries in a court martial.
Representation – Military and Civilian Attorneys
Throughout entire court-martial process, including punishments under Article 15, UCMJ, you have the right to be represented by both your appointed military lawyer and, if you choose, a civilian lawyer. While your military defense attorney is free, you must pay for your civilian defense attorney. Civilian attorneys often times bring with them many years of experience that your military attorney may not have.
Finding Professional Representation
The criminal defense lawyers at Canyons Law Group takes a team approach to every case. Many law firms will assign a single lawyer to a case. When you hire the Canyons Law Group to represent you at court martial proceedings, a minimum of two of our civilian defense lawyers would normally be sent to represent you alongside your military defense counsel. Further, our attorneys work in collaboration with each other in a way that gives our clients the benefit of the combined experience of the entire team.
Whether you are facing court martial in the military justice system or a criminal charge in civilian court, our attorneys are ready to help. Contact us today to see what the right attorney can do for you.