When it comes to grasping the court-martial process, one of the most difficult aspects is understanding the potential consequences of a conviction. It’s important to note that active duty counsel might not always have extensive knowledge about the effects of a court-martial. This is because their involvement in such cases typically ends after the trial.
The UCMJ authorizes 9 types of punishment for different types of offenses:
- Punitive Discharge: This type of punishment doesn’t become effective until the appellate review is complete.
- Confinement: If a court-martial sentence includes confinement, it can have a significant impact. The credit for good conduct and work can help reduce the sentence by up to half.
- Hard Labor without Confinement: In certain cases, this punishment may be imposed.
- Restriction: Service members may face limitations on their movements and activities.
- Reduction in Grade: The accused might be demoted to a lower rank.
- Fine: Fines are required to be paid immediately.
- Forfeitures: If the sentence involves more than six months of confinement or a punitive discharge, automatic forfeitures apply.
- Reprimands: The accused may receive an official reprimand.
- Death: In the most serious cases, the death penalty can be authorized.
When does the punishment become effective? A punitive discharge becomes effective once the appellate review is complete. Forfeitures and reductions in rank take effect either 14 days after the sentence or when the Convening Authority approves it. Fines are due immediately and confinement credit starts accruing from the day it is adjudged.
What is good conduct credit? If a service member exhibits good conduct during confinement, they may receive a reduction in the overall time served. This credit can help shorten the sentence.
What are clemency and parole? The Convening Authority, the Secretary of the service, and the Clemency and Parole Board have the power to remit or suspend parts of a sentence.
Is a court-martial conviction a felony or misdemeanor? The distinction between felonies and misdemeanors under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is not explicitly defined. However, a felony is generally considered an offense with a maximum punishment of one year or more confinement, while a misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of less than one-year confinement.
Will I face travel or transportation entitlements? You are entitled to transportation to your home of record. If your confinement exceeds 30 days, you may also be authorized to ship your household goods within 180 days of the court-martial.
Can I keep my medical or post privileges? While on involuntary excess leave awaiting appellate review, you will remain enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
Can I own firearms after a court-martial? Federal and state laws restrict the purchase of firearms for those convicted of felonies (18 USC § 922(b)). However, restrictions may vary depending on the jurisdiction and whether the offense was violent or non-violent.
Attorney R. Davis Younts has two decades of legal experience. He is a former prosecutor, JAG Lawyer, and Senior Defense Counsel in the U.S. Air Force. He is dedicated to winning justice for those charged with crimes in military, federal, and state courts.