Historical developmentFrom the earliest beginnings of the United States, military commanders have played a central role in the administration of military justice. The American military justice system, derived from its predecessor, predates the and the Constitution. While military justice in the United States has evolved considerably over the years, the convening authority has remained the instrument of selecting a panel for courts-martial. Tribunals for the trial of military offenders have coexisted with the early history of armies. The modern court-martial is deeply rooted in systems that predated written military codes and were designed to bring order and discipline to armed, and sometimes barbarous, fighting forces. Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans had military justice codes, although no written versions of them survive. Moreover, nearly every form of military tribunal included a trial before a panel or members of some type. The concept of the American military court-martial was derived from the in England and the military code of Sweden's King . These courts both strove to strike a balance between the demands of good order and discipline and the concept of . This, in turn, laid a foundation for modern systems of military justice that strive to do the same. The Court of Chivalry had a direct impact on the British . The early British Articles of War reflected a concern for due process and panel member composition. When war broke out between the American Colonists and the British in 1775, the British were operating under the 1765 edition of the Articles of War. This version would serve as the template for military justice in the . When the United States declared independence and fought the Revolutionary War, "it had a ready-made military justice system." Despite the Colonists' dissatisfaction with the British, they still recognized the intrinsic value of the British military justice system in providing good order and discipline to its own armed forces. The 1765 British were the template for the American military justice system. Accordingly, a general court-martial panel consisted of thirteen commissioned officers selected by a convening authority, with a field grade officer as president. A regimental court-martial consisted of five commissioned officers selected by the regimental commander; however, unlike the British equivalent, the regimental commander could not sit as president. Further, the Continental Congress broke away from the British system in an even more significant way: the American Articles of War were created by a legislative enactment and not by an executive order. Thus, in the American system, the legislature undertook the government of the armed forces from the beginning—military justice was not going to be left to the executive. Second, Congress demonstrated its flexibility and willingness to change the Articles as necessary. The top military lawyer, Colonel , informed Congress that the Articles were in need of revision. Congress would go on to revise the Articles several times to reflect the realities of a small military force. Nonetheless, the commander retained his role in the administration of justice. Until 1916, a service-member accused in a general court-martial did not have a right to a defense counsel. The service member could, however, request a defense counsel or pay for one. A judge advocate, prior to 1916 had a three-fold duty. To prosecute the case, to ensure that the accused soldier’s or sailor’s rights were protected – including making sure that witnesses favorable to the accused were present – and to advise the court-martial on the law. Until 1969, there was no military trial judge ensuring that an accused’s due process rights were protected. According to University of New Mexico School of Law Professor Joshua E. Kastenberg, there were aspects of a court-martial that exceeded state criminal courts in due process protections, but, there were widespread due process deficits which caused Congress to reevaluate courts-martial in 1920 and 1945-50 respectively.
81st Congress sets out to create the UCMJAfter , concerns from veterans’ organizations and bar associations regarding the military justice system in general, and, in particular, the problem of unlawful command influence of courts-martial, led to substantive Congressional reform. The 81st Congress (1949–51) set out to create a unified system of military justice for all the Federal military services, and appointed a committee chaired by Harvard Law Professor Edmund Morgan to study military justice and draft appropriate legislation. According to Professor Morgan, the task was to draft legislation that would ensure full protection of the rights of individuals without unduly interfering with either military discipline or the exercise of military functions. This would mean a "complete repudiation of a system of military justice conceived of only as an instrument of command," but would also negate "a system designed to be administered as the criminal law is administered in a civilian criminal court." The result was the (UCMJ)—a code that afforded a measure of due process to service members, while retaining command control over the appointment of court-martial members.
Subsequent measures in Congress on UCMJThe next time Congress had formal hearings on the UCMJ was when it passed the Military Justice Act of 1983. In 1999, the was required by Congress to study the issue of command selection of panel members. Congress did not take action when the Joint Services Committee (JSC) concluded that the "current system is most likely to obtain the best members within the operational constraints of the military justice system." In 2001, the Commission on the 50th Anniversary of the Uniform Code of Military Justice disagreed with the 1999 JSC Report, noting "there is no aspect of military criminal procedure that diverges further from civilian practice, or creates a greater impression of improper influence than the antiquated process of panel selection."
Constitutional foundation for federal courts-martialThe Framers of the Constitution were cognizant of the power struggle between Parliament and the King regarding the powers of the military. Many of the Framers were combat veterans from the Continental Army and understood the demands of military life and the need for a well-disciplined fighting force. The solution to the government of the armed forces was a classic balancing of constitutional interests and powers. They assured that Congress—with its responsiveness to the population, its fact-finding ability, and its collective deliberative processes—would provide for the government of the armed forces. The Framers of the Constitution had a great respect for the value of separation of powers. One of the primary goals of the Constitutional Convention, in remedying the defects of the , was to create a government in which separate branches of power served as a check and balance against the other. Principles of separation of powers also applied to the military. The Framers vested power in the and branches, but left the with only a collateral role in governing the armed forces. By distributing power over the armed forces between the legislative and executive branches, the Framers "avoided much of the political-military power struggle which typified so much of the early history of the British court-martial system." Moreover, the Framers made it clear that while the command of the military lie with the executive, the military would be governed and regulated according to the law handed down by the legislative branch. Therefore, the government of the armed forces would always reflect the will of the people as expressed through their representatives in Congress. After ratification of the Constitution in 1789, the First Congress undertook legislative action to provide for the government and regulation of the armed forces of the United States. On September 29, 1789, the Congress expressly adopted the that were currently in place for the Continental Army. It can thus be said that Congress continued the court-martial as previously established, and "the court-martial is perceived to be in fact older than the Constitution, and therefore older than any court of the United States instituted or authorized by that instrument." The Framers consciously placed the power to regulate courts-martial and set in the legislative branch of the government. The First Congress and the Framers were also cognizant of the age and history of the court-martial with commander involvement, as well as the customs and traditions that pertained to it. In 1969, the Supreme Court in O’Callahan v. Parker, stripped the military of much of the jurisdiction that Congress had enabled in the UCMJ. However, by 1987, the Supreme Court reversed course and accepted that Until 1950, the federal courts operated on the strict habeas test where often the sole question considered by the court was whether the military possessed personal jurisdiction over the soldier or sailor on trial. That is, the courts did not review whether the military had complied with due process. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal courts gradually accepted appeals based on claims of a denial of due process.
Types of courts-martialThere are three types of federal courts-martial—summary, special, and general. A conviction at a general court-martial is equivalent to a civilian felony conviction in a or a state criminal trial court. Special courts-martial are considered "federal courts" akin to misdemeanor state courts, because they cannot impose confinement longer than one year. Summary courts-martial have no civilian equivalent, other than perhaps to noncriminal magistrate's proceedings, in that they have been declared by the US Supreme Court to be administrative in nature, because there is no right to counsel; though, as a benefit, the Air Force provides such to Airmen so charged. Enlisted personnel must consent to a trial by summary court-martial and commissioned officers may not be tried in such proceedings. A summary court conviction is legally deemed to be akin to an proceeding.
Summary court-martialTrial by summary court-martial provides a simple procedure for resolution of charges of relatively minor misconduct committed by enlisted members of the military. Officers may not be tried by summary court-martial.Article 20, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. section 820 The enlisted accused must consent to be tried by summary court-martial, and if consent is not provided then the command may dispose of the allegation through other means, including directing that the case be tried before a special or general court-martial. The summary court-martial consists of one individual, who is not a military attorney, but still functions as judge and acts as the sole finder of fact. The maximum at a summary court-martial varies with the accused's paygrade. If the accused is in the of E-4 or below, he or she can be sentenced to 30 days of confinement, reduction to pay grade E-1, or restriction for 60 days. Punishments for service members in pay grades E-5 and higher (i.e.., sergeant in the Army or Marine Corps, petty officer 2nd Class in the Navy or Coast Guard) are similar, except that they can only be reduced one pay grade and cannot be confined. An accused before a summary court-martial is not entitled to receive legal representation from military defense counsel.Rule for Courts-Martial 1301(e), Part II, Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012) However, while not required by law, some services, such as the United States Air Force, provide the accused at a trial by summary court-martial free military counsel as a matter of policy. If the government chooses not to provide free military defense counsel to the accused, then that person may retain civilian counsel to represent them, at their own expense.
Special court-martialA special court-martial is the intermediate court level. It consists of a military judge, trial counsel (prosecutor), defense counsel, and a minimum of three officers sitting as a panel of court members (a ). The military judge may detail a military magistrate to preside over the proceedings. An enlisted accused may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. A special court-martial may instead consist of a judge alone if requested by the accused or if the convening authority decides so. An accused before a special court-martial is entitled to free legal representation by military defense counsel, and can also retain civilian counsel at his or her expense. Regardless of the offenses involved, a special court-martial sentence is limited to no more than forfeiture of two-thirds basic pay per month for one year, and additionally for enlisted personnel, one year confinement (or a lesser amount if the offenses have a lower maximum), and/or a bad-conduct discharge; if trial is by military judge alone, this is further reduced to a maximum of confinement for six months and/or forfeiture of pay for more than six months, and no discharge is available.
General court-martialA general court-martial is the highest court level. It consists of a military judge, trial counsel (prosecutor), defense counsel, and a minimum of five officers sitting as a panel of court-martial members. An enlisted accused may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. An accused may also request trial by judge alone. In a general court-martial, the maximum punishment is that set for each offense under the '' '' (MCM), and may include for certain offenses, confinement, a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge for enlisted personnel, a dismissal for officers, or a number of other forms of punishment. A general court-martial is the only forum that may adjudge a sentence to death. Before a case goes to a general court-martial, a pretrial investigation under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice must be conducted, unless waived by the accused; this is the equivalent to a civilian process. An accused before a general court-martial is entitled to free legal representation by military defense counsel, and can also retain civilian counsel at his or her expense.
Detention before trialUnder Articl
Composition of courtsUnder Articl
Burden of proofAt a trial by court-martial, the accused service member is presumed innocent. Meanwhile, the government bears the burden of proving guilt of the accused, via legal and competent evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused must be resolved in favor of the accused. In other words, an accused service member must be "given the benefit of the doubt;” or, put more simply: there must be no reasonable chance or likelihood–per the evidence and proceedings–of the accused’s innocence. If the accused is charged with an offense that carries a mandatory sentence to death, then a conviction on that allegation requires all of the court-martial members to vote "guilty." Otherwise, for all other offenses, a conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the court-martial members to vote "guilty." If an accused service member elects to be tried by a military judge sitting alone, rather than by a panel of court-martial members, then the military judge will determine guilt.10 U.S.C. § 851(d) Sentencing in a trial by court-martial is carried out by the same forum that adjudicated guilt. In other words, if an accused service member elects to have court-martial members determine his or her guilt, those same court-martial members will adjudge a sentence upon conviction. If an accused service member elects to be tried by military judge sitting alone, then that military judge (alone) will sentence the accused (if a conviction results from such trial). A sentence to death requires trial by court-martial members; and, further: all the members must unanimously concur in that sentence. A sentence to more than ten years of confinement may be adjudged in a trial by military judge sitting alone, or if the accused elects to be tried by members, then by the concurrence of three-fourths of the court-martial members. Any lesser sentence may be adjudged in a trial by military judge sitting alone, or if the accused elects to be tried by members, then by the concurrence of two-thirds of the court-martial members.
AppealsThere are procedures for post-trial review in every case, although the extent of those appellate rights depends upon the punishment imposed by the court and approved by the . Cases involving a punitive discharge, dismissal, confinement for one year or more, or death will undergo automatic review by the appropriate military Court of Criminal Appeals. Further review is possible to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Convening authority reviewIn every case resulting in conviction, the convening authority (usually the same commander who ordered the trial to proceed and selected the members of the court-martial) must review the case and decide whether to approve the findings and sentence. Prior to 24 June 2014, federal law provided that a convening authority's discretion to modify a finding or sentence to the benefit of a convicted servicemember was a matter of command prerogative, and was final. Following 24 June 2014, the convening authority's right to grant a convicted service member relief has been significantly curtailed. After 24 June 2014, convening authorities may not dismiss or reduce a conviction to one for a lesser offense unless the maximum possible sentence of confinement listed for the offense in the is two years or less, ''and'' the sentence actually adjudged did not include a dismissal, dishonorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, or confinement for more than six months. Further, the convening authority may not dismiss or reduce a conviction for rape, sexual assault, rape or sexual assault of a child, or forcible sodomy, regardless of the sentence actually adjudged at trial. Further, after 24 June 2014, convening authorities may not disapprove, commute, or suspend an adjudged sentence, in whole or in part, an adjudged sentence to be dismissed, dishonorably discharged, to receive a bad conduct discharge, or to serve more than six months of confinement. Exceptions to this limitation on the power to reduce those types of punishments exist for when the convicted service member enters into a pretrial agreement to plead guilty in return for having any adjudged dishonorable discharge reduced to a bad conduct discharge, or when the convicted service member provides "substantial assistance" to the investigation or prosecution of another person.
Intermediate service courts of criminal appealsAfter a conviction has been reviewed by the convening authority, if the sentence includes death, dismissal, a dishonorable discharge, a bad conduct discharge, or confinement for a year or more, then the case is reviewed by the appropriate service Court of Criminal Appeals. In cases where the sentence is not sufficiently severe, there is no right to appeallate review. The four service Courts of Criminal Appeals are: * * * * The service courts of criminal appeals have the power to reverse convictions that are either legally or factually insufficient, and to reduce sentences that they deem to be inappropriately severe.10 USC 866(c) The power to determine factual sufficiency is a unique power for an appellate court to possess, and in exercising that authority the courts of criminal appeals may separately weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, and determine controverted questions of fact, even though only the trial court saw and heard the witnesses. The accused will be assigned an appellate defense counsel to represent him on appeal free of charge. Civilian counsel may be retained at the accused's own expense.
Court of Appeals for the Armed ForcesFrom the service court of criminal appeals, a service member, if sentenced to either death, dismissal, dishonorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, or more than a year confinement, may also petition the United States' highest military court—the (CAAF).Macomb, Alexander, ''A Treatise on Martial Law, and Courts-Martial as Practiced in the United States''. (Charleston: J. Hoff, 1809), republished (New York: Lawbook Exchange, June 2007), , Pollack, Estela I. Velez
Request for pardonAs a final measure of appeal, a convicted service member may also petition the President of the United States for a reprieve or under the Constitutional authority granted in Article II, Section 2.
Courts-martial and appellate courts as legislative (Article I) courtsAs noted above, the federal courts had been historically reticent to grant appeals in courts-martial. In the 1857 decision, ''Dynes v. Hoover'', the Supreme Court determined that the test for determining whether an Article III court possessed the constitutional authority to review the merits of an appeal from a court-martial rested on the sole question as to whether the court-martial possessed jurisdiction over the person prosecuted in it. As a result, the Army or Navy could deviate from their respective military crimes to the detriment of a service-member. Thus, unless the Army, Navy, or a president determined the court-martial had been conducted in error, there was little relief available to the service-member. Kastenberg has pointed out that the Court issued'' Dynes'' almost contemporaneously with ''Dred Scott v. Sanford'', and there is a relationship between the two decision. The Court apparently agreed with the arguments of counsel for the United States, Ransom Hooker Gillet, that the Army's discipline in Kansas was in question because several officers found it appalling that they might have to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. (Gillet later became a 'copperhead' during the Civil War and accused President Abraham Lincoln of being a tyrant). While one of the purposes for the government's argument in ''Dynes'' had been mooted by the Civil War, it remained the law on courts-martial appeals through the 1940. It is important to place a court-martial appeal to the Federal Court in its context as a legislative ( Article I) court. Article III courts do not handle all of the judicial business in the United States. Congress has used its under the Constitution in conjunction with the to create specialized tribunals, including courts-martial. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says Congress shall have the power "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces." Even where life and liberty are at stake, legislative courts are not required to grant all of the rights that are intrinsic to the Article III courts. The has, instead, only disturbed the statutory due process system of a given legislative court if the question concerns "fundamental rights." Of all the legislative courts created by Congress, courts-martial have received the most deference from Article III courts. Under a standard of review known as the "separate community" or "military deference" doctrine, the courts have proclaimed the armed forces to be "a specialized society separate from civilian society" with unique needs. The Article III courts will not invalidate the balance reached by Congress as regards the administration of military justice unless the "fundamental right" being affected is "extraordinarily weighty."''Weiss v. United States'', 510 US 163, 178 (1994) Today's court-martial system, including command selection of jurors, the lack of unanimity in verdicts, and the allowance of 3 or 5 member panels, has thus far withstood scrutiny. This is perhaps because an accused in a trial by general or special court-martial enjoys significant statutory due process rights, such as: # assistance of counsel; # information of the charges brought, including the ability to obtain a bill of particulars; # a ; # compulsory process of es and evidence; # the privilege against ; and # in cases where the sentence received is sufficiently severe. Given those statutory rights, the balance that Congress has struck in the administration of justice will not be lightly disturbed by an Article III court.
Access to the U.S. Supreme Court after appealsIn certain limited circumstances, service members have their cases heard by the Supreme Court. Since 2005, various bills have been introduced in Congress to give service members an appeal of their cases to the United States Supreme Court. None of these bills has been enacted, and as of 2010 there is legislation pending.
Further reading* Macomb, Alexander, of the