I heard that someone in my unit is getting a summary court-martial and that someone else is getting a special court-martial. I am supposed to be going to general court-martial. What is the difference?

A summary court-martial is presided over by one commissioned officer to “promptly adjudicate minor offenses under a simple procedure”. See RCM 1301. Typically, a person who is subject to a summary court-martial is not represented by an attorney during the proceedings but is entitled to speak to an attorney for guidance and advice prior to the proceedings. Generally, a conviction at a court-martial is not a reportable conviction. Punishment maximums vary by the rank of the accused person but no person can be confined for longer than thirty days. Similar to non-judicial punishment, the accused person does not have to “accept” trial by summary court-martial and may demand trial by court-martial instead. If the accused person elects trial by court-martial, they do not get to choose which type of greater jurisdiction their case will be.

A special court-martial authorized to give a bad conduct discharge (BCD) is composed of a military judge with or without at least three jury members (known as panel members). No matter what the charges, at a special court-martial the maximum punishment allowed is reduction to E-1, forfeiture of 2/3 pay, confinement for 1 year, and a BCD. A conviction at a special court-martial will translate to an actual federal conviction; it will depend on the state as to whether or not it is considered a felony conviction because in some states the criteria for a felony is if the person was facing more than one year. In other states, the line between felony and misdemeanor is drawn as a misdemeanor when the person was facing less than one year in confinement.

A general court-martial (GCM) is the highest level of court-martial under the UCMJ. A GCM is composed of a military judge and at least five jury members (known as panel members). The maximum punishment possible at a GCM will depend on the individual charges and will be the total punishment when adding each charge’s individual maximum punishment. Every case that will be a GCM will have a pretrial Article 32(b) hearing.

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