Ask a Military Lawyer: What is a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone?

Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone has limited punishment, but no right to a jury trial

As part of the Military Justice Act of 2016, for the first time ever, Congress created a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone. Starting in 2019, military prosecutors and their convening authorities have the ability to refer court-martial charges to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone. This means the accused does not have the ability to request a trial by jury (known as “members” in the military), an option he or she would have with any other type of General Court-Martial or Special Court-Martial. The judge will hear the evidence, decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty, and determine the sentence.

Although an accused loses the ability to request a jury trial at this type of court-martial, he or she benefits from the limited punishment such a court-martial can impose. At a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone, the maximum punishment cannot exceed confinement for more than six (6) months and cannot include a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge.

Table of Contents

  • Can the Military send any Charges to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone?
  • Does the Accused have any say in what type of court-martial will hear the charges?
  • What Happens if an Accused objects to the trial of charges at a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone?
  • Contact an Experienced Military Attorney if You are Under Investigation or Facing UCMJ Charges.

Can the Military send any Charges to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone?

The government can send any charges to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone, from something as minor as being late to formation in violation of Article 86, UCMJ, to a more major offense such as aggravated assault, in violation of Article 128, UCMJ. However, military prosecutors usually use this type of court-martial for minor offenses. For example, when a servicemember demands trial by court-martial rather than accept nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ, military prosecutors will often send the charges to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone.

Does the Accused have any say in what type of court-martial will hear the charges?

Depending upon the charges, an accused may have the ability to object to a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone. An accused can object to the trial of charges at this type of court-martial under two circumstances: (1) the maximum authorized confinement for the offense alleged would be greater than two years if the offense were tried by a General Court-Martial, with the exception of a charge alleging wrongful use or possession of a controlled substance in violation of Article 112a, UCMJ, or an attempt thereof under Article 80, UCMJ; or (2) the specification alleges an offense for which sex offender notification would be required under regulations issued by the Secretary of Defense. For all other charged offenses, the accused cannot object to trial by Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone.

The accused must decide early in the court-martial process whether to object to charges at this type of trial. At arraignment, the first hearing conducted in all court-martial trials, the accused has to make the decision about whether to object or not. The advice of an experienced military lawyer is critical at this juncture. After the arraignment, the accused will no longer be able to make this objection.

What Happens if an Accused objects to the trial of charges at a Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone?

When an accused objects to charges being tried by Special Court-Martial consisting of a Military Judge Alone, the military prosecutors can send those charges or all of the charges to a Special Court-Martial or a General Court-Martial, both of which give the accused the option of requesting trial by a jury or by the military judge alone. The benefit to the accused is that he or she now has the ability to request a trial by jury.

But there is always a downside, which in this case would be exposure of the accused to increased punishment if he or she is convicted of an offense. At a General Court-Martial, the sentence could include the maximum amount of confinement authorized under the UCMJ for each finding of guilty, as well as a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge. At a Special Court-Martial, the accused could receive up to one-year of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge if convicted.

Contact an Experienced Military Attorney if You are Under Investigation or Facing UCMJ Charges.

Whenever you are under criminal investigation or UCMJ charges have been brought against you, contact an experienced military attorney who will fight for you and your innocence. Attorneys who do not practice in military courts, or have limited experience with military criminal matters, simply do not have the knowledge or skill you need to fight the charges.

At Law Office of Mark A. Bridges, LLLC, you get a military attorney who knows the military criminal system and the UCMJ better than anyone. The decisions you must make at a court-martial, including the one mentioned in this blog article, as well as the many other aspects of a criminal trial, simply cannot be trusted to just any attorney. If you are going to hire a military attorney, and you should, hire the best at Law Office of Mark A. Bridges, LLLC. We represent Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines at all Hawaii bases and posts, including Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, Fort Shafter, Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH), and Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) – and everywhere else in the world.

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