The military’s court-martial system can mean the end of a military career. While the court-martial system does not necessarily assign felony or misdemeanor designations to military crimes, it is generally accepted that a general court-martial is equivalent to a felony trial. In contrast, a special court-martial is equivalent to a misdemeanor trial.
Special Court-Martial (SPCM) is the second most serious court-martial. It is the “misdemeanor-level” court-martial. You may be reduced in rank all the way to E-1, suffer fines or forfeitures, receive a Bad-Conduct Discharge (BCD), and jail confinement is limited to one year or less.
Why You Need a Special Court-Martial Defense Lawyer
Any court-martial charge is effectively an accusation of a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). While the SPCM system is different from a civilian criminal case, facing a court-martial is the same as facing federal criminal charges. It’s vital to acknowledge the value of legal representation in this position and what a special court-martial defense attorney can provide to your case.
Despite numerous contested Special Court-Martial cases, Aaron Meyer has never has a client convicted of a single charge at a Special Court-Martial trial. Through passionate loyalty to his clients, he has won time and time again.
Unauthorized Absence, Drunk Driving, Drug Use, Order Violations, Hazing, Domestic Violence, Simple Assault, and Dereliction of Duty are examples of charges that typically go to Special Court-Martial. Special Court-Martial convictions are career-killers and typically go onto your criminal record.
However, since they are “lower-level” charges, it is possible to negotiate the case to an administrative resolution or force complete dismissal in the right cases with rigorous pre-trial efforts.
Understanding the Special Court-Martial System
The court-martial process may mirror a criminal prosecution in many ways, but the process unfolds according to the UCMJ laws, not the criminal court system used for trying civilians. One of the key differences is that the accused has the right to choose how their court-martial process unfolds. In an SPCM trial, the accused can choose to have a military judge preside over the proceedings alone or choose a panel of three court members.
An enlisted member can choose to have a panel of three officers or a panel of at least one-third enlisted members. All members of the panel must outrank the accused by at least date of rank. An officer must have a panel of three superior ranking officers, at least by date of rank. Unlike civilian criminal court that requires a unanimous decision from the jury to determine guilt, the court-martial system only requires a three-quarters majority vote to find the accused guilty. If you face an SPCM trial, it’s a good idea to consult your defense attorney to determine which trial format is most likely to work in your favor.
Unlike General Courts-Martial, Special Courts-Martial do not have an Article 32 hearing before they are formally charged. This means that you typically have less time and information to mount a defense in a SPCM. Yet, you still have all the same rights to trial-by-jury, witnesses, government-paid Experts, and evidence that you do in General Courts-Martial.
Charges Commonly Handled in Special Court-Martial Proceedings
An SPCM hearing may be less severe than a general court-martial but make no mistake; this is still a very serious situation for the accused, and their career and future hang in the balance. Articles 77 through 134 of the UCMJ are the punitive articles that outline the various crimes that may justify court-martial proceedings.
These punitive articles cover all possible offenses that may lead to either a general court-martial or special court-martial process. Typically, conduct unbecoming of an officer, offenses related to alcohol consumption and/or drug abuse, and absence without leave (AWOL) are a few possible offenses that may lead to a special court-martial. The general court-martial process is typically reserved for very serious offenses, including murder, rape, espionage, and aiding the enemy.
The UCMJ does not outline which version of the court-martial process will apply to any given offense. It’s possible for any given offense to lead to either general court-martial or special court-martial proceedings depending on the severity of the offense and whether the accused faces multiple charges.
Potential Sentences in Special Court-Martial
While it’s easy to draw parallels between facing a civilian misdemeanor charge and special court-martial, it’s important to draw parallels between the potential punishments’ severity. A misdemeanor may not carry the same punitive weight as a felony charge, but it can still have dramatic negative repercussions on your life. Similarly, the SPCM may not be as severe as a general court-martial, but the penalties can still be much more severe than you may initially expect.
The accused may decide the manner in which their case unfolds. If you are an enlisted service member and choose a trial with a panel, you can face significant penalties, including a bad conduct discharge, confinement in military prison for one year, compulsory forfeiture of two-thirds of your pay every month for one year, and demotion in rank down to E-1. Officers are rarely tried under SPCM, as they cannot be demoted in rank or face punitive discharge through this process.
If the accused chooses a trial by judge alone, the accused will not face a punitive bad conduct discharge. Additionally, the maximum punishment the judge may assign to the accused can include no more than six months of confinement in military prison and no more than six months of pay forfeiture. An important caveat to the judge alone route is the fact that while an SPCM jury must assign a sentence covering all the charges the accused faces, the judge alone option allows the judge to assign different sentences for each charge against the accused, and the judge may decide whether these sentences run concurrently or consecutively.
Ultimately, either option poses significant challenges for the accused. While the judge alone route may seem to promise reduced sentencing and a swifter trial process, the accused is essentially leaving the final decision in the hands of just one person. The trial by jury option may result in more severe penalties, but there is the chance for disagreement among the panel members that can ultimately lead to an acquittal.
What to Expect From Your Defense Counsel
If you are facing SPCM proceedings, you have the right to defense counsel. While the accused has the option to secure representation from a detailed military defense counsel, they may also choose to have an independent military defense counsel (IMC) if the IMC’s command determines the IMC is available. However, the accused also can choose their own civilian military defense counsel if they are willing to pay their legal fees.
While hiring private defense counsel will cost more than retaining defense counsel from within the military, you are more likely to have better quality legal representation when you choose an attorney like Aaron Meyer. An experienced private defense attorney with a solid record of successful military case representation can provide the legal counsel you need to navigate your SPCM proceedings confidently.
The Rules of Military Evidence dictate what forms of evidence are admissible in your trial. Once the prosecutor and your attorney have presented your evidence and testimony, the jury or judge will deliberate before delivering a ruling. Your defense counsel can coordinate a plea bargain with the prosecution, similar to the way plea bargains work in civilian trials. For example, the prosecutor may agree to a lighter sentence in exchange for your guilty plea. If sentenced, the case proceeds directly to the sentencing phase, called “extenuation and mitigation,” in the SPCM process.
During this phase, you have the opportunity to testify, call witnesses, and present additional evidence to cast yourself in a more positive light, potentially reducing the sentence you face. If your attorney privately negotiated a plea bargain with the prosecutor, the jury would not know about this. It may assign an even lighter sentence than you agreed to during plea bargaining. However, when you hire the best special court-martial defense attorney available, your legal counsel will do everything they can to ensure your case is dismissed without a conviction. Attorney Aaron Meyer has a strong track record with no lost cases in the SPCM system and has no intention of breaking this winning streak.
Find Your Defense Attorney Today
The sooner you get the best on your side, the sooner we can ensure that you get the best possible outcome in your Special Court-Martial.
Do not be intimidated into taking the deal the government throws at you. Make sure you have an aggressive advocate who will dig your case up by the roots and only stop when there is complete justice for you. To find out how Aaron Meyer will start attacking the details of your case, build a close relationship with you, and commence the relentless fight, call him today at 949-388-3654 or fill out the form below for a free consultation.