Military law covers those people who serve in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and addresses related regulations and ordinances. Since the Constitution gives Congress the authority to act in military matters, military law is a component of federal law. Military lawyers serve with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of a particular branch of service. Military law is recognized by civil courts and is considered to be in effect in both peace and wartime.
A military lawyer might represent a person facing a court martial, who is involved in a divorce or family law matter, or who has been charged with a crime. Additional examples of cases when a military member might need legal representation could include an enlisted individual who has been accused of committing a war crime, someone who needs military benefits after a denial or someone who needs to delay reporting for duty due to personal or family matters.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice addresses all aspects of military law. It not only applies to active duty personnel, but it can also apply to certain retired individuals, reserve members and members of the National Guard. The UCMJ covers a wide range of topics, including the following:
When a service member does not follow the expected code of conduct, his or her superior officer might seek non-judicial sanctions, such as reprimands, demotion, additional duties or even confinement. In other cases, the member could be subject to a court martial.
Court martials include specific procedures and rules that must be followed. They are categorized as summary, special or general, depending upon the number of members and the type of offense. Summary court martials are rare and apply only to enlisted personnel. There is no jury in such a proceeding. Special court martials apply to offenses of medium severity and consist of a judge, an attorney for the prosecution, an attorney for the defendant and a jury.
General court martials are the harshest and are usually applicable to the most serious offenses such as murder, robbery or rape. A conviction can also result in incarceration. Criminal cases include desertion, fraudulent enlistment, absence without leave and many more offenses.
The Manual for Courts-Martial covers military arraignments, pre-trial procedures and motions, plea agreements, trial procedures, rules of evidence, sentencing, post-trial appeals and other rules and regulations. While defendants are free to represent themselves in a court martial, military law is quite complex, and a military lawyer will often have a better understanding of the nuances of military regulations. In some cases, the service member’s conduct is viewed so seriously that the military severs his or her service via a dishonorable discharge.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified military lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local military attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.