The Three Categories of Courts-Martial – Special

Posted by: William Cassara On: November 25th, 2011

A Special Court-Martial is the intermediate court level; more serious than a Summary Court-Martial and less serious than a General Court-Martial. It consists of a military judge, defense counsel, trial counsel (prosecutor), and a minimum of three officers serving as a jury or panel of court members. An enlisted accused service member does have the right to request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. Accused officer and enlisted service members also have the right to request trial by judge alone.

A Special Court-Martial is often characterized as a misdemeanor, and may try all persons subject to the UCMJ, including officers and midshipmen. Unlike civilian courts, the UCMJ does not make a distinction between felonies and misdemeanors. As such, while Special Courts-Martial are often referred to as "misdemeanor courts" and General Courts-Martial are often referred to as "felony courts" this is not always the case. You should consult with a qualified attorney for a better explanation of these terms. Regardless of the offenses involved, Special Court-Martial sentences are limited to:

  • No more than six months imprisonment (or a lesser amount if the offenses have a lower maximum);
  • Forfeiture of two-third's basic pay per month for no more than six months;
  • A bad-conduct discharge (for enlisted personnel); and
  • Certain lesser punishments.

An officer accused in a Special Court-Martial cannot be dismissed from the service or confined.

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