When most of us hear the words court martial, the hair stands up on the back of our heads and images of gallows or electric chairs flash through our mind. While death is a possible sentence for some types of court martial cases, there are actually a huge range of penalties that a person can receive, including demotions, fines and short imprisonments. Let’s take a look at the whole range of penalties doled out by the court martial system and see what you can expect if you are currently being accused of a crime.
There are three main types of court martial cases that can be tried in military courts. The first is known as a general court martial, and it is the most serious of all court martial cases. When you hear about a soldier being tried for treason or a high profile court martial happening, this is the kind of court martial style they are talking about. However, there are other penalties for a general court martial other than death. One interesting note about general court martial cases is that there are no limits on a penalty as it is associated with a crime. In civilian court, if you commit third degree murder, there is a limit on the number of years you can get for that crime, in a general court martial, there isn’t and there isn’t any limit for any crime that can be tried there.
The middle child of court martial cases is known as a special court martial. At a special court martial, serious cases are tried, but not cases serious enough to warrant a general court martial that could give the sentence of death. Offenses such as larceny, battery and other similar crimes are often tried at special court martial trials. If you are an officer, you can not be sentenced to time in jail nor can a special court martial remove or dismiss an officer of the military from active duty. If you are a non commissioned officer, you can receive no more than 12 months in jail, a serious reduction in the amount of pay you receive and possibly a bad conduct discharge.
The final kind of court martial is known as a summary court martial. Not only is this the least serious kind of court marital but it also the kind that gives soldiers the most flexibility and even gives the solider the option of opting out of this kind of trial if they feel that they would stand a better chance of being acquitted in a special court martial. The crimes prosecuted here are very minor and include things like petty theft and other small crimes. The most any enlisted man can expect from a summary court martial is a one month of prison and a forfeit of two thirds of your pay.
As you can see, the court martial process is actually quite complicated and can be tough to navigate without the proper knowledge beforehand.