What is the UCMJ and Why Does It Matter to Military Members?

what is UCMJIf you are wondering what the UCMJ is, it is a federal law, enacted by Congress. It defines the military justice system and enlists criminal offenses under military law.

The UCMJ requires the President of the United States, working as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, to write rules and regulations to execute military law. The President pens these rules and regulations by passing an executive order called the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). The MCM explains official procedure for military court-martials and gives maximum punishments for every military offense listed in the disciplinary articles of the UCMJ. Only a dedicated UCMJ defender can save a military service member from being punished.

 

Military Court- Martials

 

These are the most serious sanctions under military law. A court-martial conviction is similar to a federal conviction and can lead to jail or a punitive discharge, like dishonorable discharge along with fines as well reduction in rank.

Military court-martials occur at three levels:

 

  1. Summary
  2. Special
  3. General

 

Depending upon the seriousness of the offense and rank of the accused, the level is chosen.

 

Summary Court-Martials

 

These are comparatively rare nowadays. They may try only enlisted personnel. They are much like non-judicial punishment proceedings, barring it can end in a federal conviction.

Summary court-martials are presided over by a commissioned officer. There is no jury and barring the Air Force, there is no need to provide a defense lawyer to the accused (though a lawyer is normally allowed).

 

Special Court-Martials

 

These have jurisdiction over all personnel accused of any UCMJ offense. They are usually used to try offenses of medium seriousness.

These court-martials involve a military judge, defense and prosecuting lawyers and a jury of at least 3 military members. If the accused is an enlisted member, he has a right to ask for at least 1/3rd of the jury to be enlisted members. He can also ask for dismissing the jury and be tried by only a judge if he wants.

 

General Court-Martials

 

These are the most severe types of the military court-martials and are usually reserved for the most severe offenses, like rape, murder or robbery. They have jurisdiction over all personnel accused of any UCMJ offense.

A military judge, the accused, the defense and prosecuting lawyers and a jury is involved in a general court-martial. Just like in the special court-martial, here too the accused can ask for 1/3rd of the jury to be enlisted members if he is an enlisted member and can also ask for dismissing the jury and choose to be tried by only the judge.

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