While millions of people all over the world are familiar with the television show of the same name, the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, is the judicial branch of the US Military that presides over each and every branch of the US military, from the air force to the army to the coast guard. The Judge Advocate General is responsible for enforcing the Uniform Code of Military Conduct, which is the criminal law code that members of the military follow. Violation of the UCMJ can result in disciplinary action up to and including a general court martial that could result in death for the most serious offences such as treason. Let’s take a look at how this fascinating military branch works.
Not only does the JAG prosecute crimes in the military, they also help to defend those accused of crimes. Much like civilian courts, if you can not afford to have your own lawyer in the case of a general court martial, one will be provided for you. In other types of court martial cases, such as summary court martial cases, you don’t need a lawyer of your own since the judge advocate works as both your defense and your prosecution.
The JAG also provides a wide range of law services to members of the military all over the world. If a member of the military is accused of a crime in a foreign country and the local law system demands that the soldier stand trial, their lawyer will be provided by the JAG at no cost to them. They can also assist members of the military through other legal troubles such as divorce or even with something far more basic like an off-base traffic ticket or parking violation.
While many of sat on the edges of our seats during the ten year run of the hit television show JAG, the overwhelming majority of cases tried in military courts aren’t for general court martial cases. There are two other kinds of court martial cases that are tried on a regular basis for far less serious crimes. They are known as summary court martial cases and special court martial cases.
With a special court martial case, the JAG actually has jurisdiction over civilians depending on where the crime was committed and what the circumstances were when the crime happened. Special court martial cases are considered the “medium” level of seriousness, with general court martial cases being the most serious and summary court martial cases being the least serious. In an interesting twist, a soldier can actually request a judge trial without a jury if he or she chooses so.
With a summary court martial, the system if far more streamlined. There is one judge advocate who serves as both the prosecution and the defense. Cases are often heard and tried much, much quicker than they are in civilian court, as well. The accused even have the right to refuse this type of court martial and they will be “upgraded” to a special court martial, instead.