While a summary court-martial is not a federal conviction, it will most likely have an adverse effect on your future military service. If you turn down trial by summary court-martial, the chain of command will consider your refusal to cooperate in a negative way.
Should you be faced with such a decision, it is essential you find a qualified military defense attorney. Both your military and future civilian career depends on it.
The military justice system has 3 types of court-martial – Summary Court-Martial, General Court-Martial, and Special Court-Martial. The Summary Court is the only of the three that is NOT a federal criminal trial.
What Is A Summary Court-Martial?
A Summary Court-Martial is, basically, an administrative hearing that does not result in a federal criminal conviction because they do not provide accused military personnel the same due process requisite to a criminal trial.
According to the SUMMARY COURT-MARTIAL OFFICER GUIDE, a summary court-martial is a streamlined trial that only has one officer that functions as the defendant’s prosecutor, defense counsel, judge, and panel (jury). This disposes of minor offenses and does not involve a felony in civilian court.
The official Guide for Summary Court-Martial Trial Procedure (Department of the Army Pamphlet 27–7) states:
When the SCMCA sends a case to a summary court-martial, he or she also appoints a summary court-martial officer. The summary court-martial is composed of one active-duty commissioned officer, usually the rank of captain or higher. The summary court-martial officer is the person who makes the decision on guilt, and if found guilty, on the sentence. The SCMCA cannot appoint himself as the summary court-martial officer unless he is the only officer in the command.
If you turn down trial by summary court-martial, the chain of command will consider your refusal to cooperate in a negative way. The decision will then be made by the commander to either accept your refusal and drop the charges against you or to dismiss the charges.
Either outcome will probably mean you will not serve in the military again. You do not have the option to opt-out of service. This is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In general, summary court-martialing will have the effect of depriving you of an honorable discharge and its associated benefits.
What Is The Difference Between A Summary Court-Martial And A Full Court-Martial?
A summary court-martial is generally the type of proceeding where you’ll be offered lesser punishments for things like physical misconduct and bad behavior. A full-court-martial, or military trial, is where you are not only found guilty, but the punishment can be severe.
If you’re found guilty of raping a woman in the Army, you’ll likely get dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and possibly even imprisonment. Often, the guilty verdict is offered in full-court-martial situations only after careful deliberation by the judge, the prosecution, and the defense.
What Are The Benefits Of A Summary Court-Martial?
If you agree to a summary court-martial, you must be 100% certain you will get the conviction you want. The military is very wary of anyone claiming victory by obtaining a conviction that everyone is happy with.
There are always charges that are not provable beyond a reasonable doubt, so any soldier who says he got the sentence he wanted will often get called out on this later. To mitigate this, you will get a lot of help from your legal officer during the pretrial process. He or she will check your record, and that of the accused, and will try to keep you out of trouble during the trial.
What Are The Drawbacks Of A Summary Court-Martial?
First, the military has no right to inform the public that a person is charged with a summary court-martial. The public will have no way of knowing that you’re being tried.
Second, once you refuse to allow the military to try you in a summary court-martial, the military has the right to boot you out of the service. In the Air Force, for example. If you are shot down while flying combat missions, but it’s determined that it was the fact that you refused a summary court-martial that contributed to your aircraft crash, you will probably be denied air combat training. A summary court-martial clearly violates an Air Force requirement to allow its pilots to complete at least 20 flight hours of additional training each month.
Hopefully, this guide helps you better understand how to navigate the military justice system and your disciplinary proceedings. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact a reputable military defense attorney who has the training and experience required to navigate the military’s code of justice.
Military members face serious consequences for crimes committed – possible federal criminal conviction, and court-martial sentences including confinement in military prison/jail. If you or someone close to you is facing such choices, make sure there is understanding about what is about to transpire.