A summary court martial is designed to promptly adjudicate minor offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Compared to special and general courts-martial, a summary court-martial uses streamlined procedures and affords the accused service member minimal due process rights. A conviction by summary court-martial will have significant negative consequences on your career and your future. If you are facing a summary court-martial, speak with an experiencedmilitary lawyer to know your rights and your options.
Limited Rights At A Summary Court Martial
At a summary court-martial the accused service member has no right to counsel. However, the service member may retain a civilian military lawyer. In most cases that civilian counsel will be allowed to represent the accused during the summary court-martial proceeding. Whether it is a good idea to have representation during the hearing itself is an issue you should discuss with an experienced military lawyer.
A summary court-martial is presided over by one officer. That officer may or may not be a JAG lawyer. The summary court officer determines guilt or innocence. If guilt is the verdict, then the summary court officer also adjudges a sentence. In contrast to special and general courts-martial, there is no military judge and the accused has no right to choose trial by panel members.
An accused may request production of witnesses and evidence. However, in practice, at a summary court-martial an accused has limited ability to compel production of either witnesses or evidence in part because they are not represented by defense counsel and in part because there is no military judge presiding over the court-martial.
Right To Object To Summary Court-Martial
Because of these diminished rights, a service member may object to trial by summary court-martial. However, if the service member exercises this right to object, then the chain of command may choose to elevate the charge(s) to a higher level court-martial which could result in greater punishment and a criminal record of conviction. In a few cases, where the evidence is weak, a service member may want to consider exercising his right to object to trial by summary court-martial. Exercise this right only after speaking with an experienced military lawyer so you understand the potential consequences.
The sentence at a summary court-martial may include up to 30 days confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month, hard labor without confinement for up to 45 days, restriction for up to two months, and reduction to the lowest enlisted grade. However, if the accused is above the fourth enlisted pay grade, the sentence may not include confinement, hard labor, or reduction of more than one grade.
A summary court-martial may not adjudge a punitive discharge. However, conviction at a summary court-martial will often lead to an adverse administrative dischargewhich could negatively impact the service member’s future. Consult with an experienced military lawyer to ensure you understand the consequences of a summary court-martial.
Examples of the military crimes that may be tried at a summary court-martial:
- Article 86, UCMJ, Absence without leave (AWOL)
- Article 91, UCMJ, Insubordinate conduct
- Article 90, UCMJ, Assaulting or disobeying superior commissioned officer
- Article 92, UCMJ, Failure to obey order or regulation
- Article 128, UCMJ, Assault consummated by battery
- Article 134, UCMJ, Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline
A more complete description of military crimes is available here.
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