Who’s Who at the Court Martial
Military courts-martial are similar to civilian trials, but there are some notable differences. The most important have to do with the key officials assigned to the court by the convening authority.
The Military Judge
The military judge presides over your case during the trial, and is also the final authority in all matters having to do with the court or the case leading up to the trial. All preliminary hearings, all requests and complaints from the attorneys on both sides: everything is decided by this judge. To ensure that they are free from the influence of the command of either party in the case, military judges are part of an independent trial judiciary command.
General courts-martial include a detailed trial counsel, who prosecutes the case, and a detailed defense counsel to represent the accused. In a general court martial, both of these officers must be attorneys qualified to serve in this capacity under the terms of Article 27(b) of the UCMJ.
Service members facing a general court martial are assigned defense counsel at no cost. Most military attorneys are smart, hard working, and dedicated. If you’ve heard good things about one, you can request that they be detailed to your case. If you don’t know of anyone to request, don’t worry: the person the court assigns to you is likely to do an excellent job.
You also have the right to hire a civilian attorney at your own expense. If you do, your assigned military defense counsel becomes second chair on your legal team—unless, for any reason, you choose to dismiss that person and go to trial with civilian counsel only.
It is a great advantage to keep the assigned defense counsel on as part of your legal team. These officers know the local judiciary landscape and can be a source of valuable insight. Plus, the more brains working together on your case, the better—right? If you’re accused of sexual assault, you’re going to need the best team you can get.
The Military Jury
A military jury, composed of eight jurors, is called a panel.
These eight panelists will be selected from a pool of twenty potential members chosen by the convening authority. According to the UCM, the pool should consist of the active-duty service members who are “best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament.” All potential jurors have to be equal in rank to the defendant or higher.
While the pool is established at this point, the process of selecting the eight panelists from among them doesn’t take place until the start of the trial.
For help with your case, call Capovilla & Williams at (404) 496-7974.