What is a General court-martial?
A General court-martial (GCM) is the highest level of court-martial. Before an accused can be tried by GCM, he or she is entitled to a preliminary hearing called an Article 32 pretrial investigation. This event is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, however there are several differences that favor the accused.
The similarity to the grand jury proceeding is that the Article 32 hearing requires an objective and impartial finding of probable cause that the accused committed the charges offenses before being subject to trial b GCM.
The differences that favor the accused are that the Article 32 hearing is not in secret; an accused may not be compelled to testify at this event; an accused is entitled to be represented by counsel at this event; through counsel, the accused may confront and cross-examine witnesses called by the government; present evidence on his or her own behalf such as testifying, calling witnesses to testify, presenting documents or other physical evidence, and lastly presenting argument.
Unlike the grand jury process, however, the Article 32 pretrial investigation is presided over by a single, neutral and detached military officer, who after hearing all the evidence presented, will make a finding as to whether or not here is reason to believe the accused committed the charged offenses. This officer then recommends whether or not the charges go forward to court-martial, and if so, what level of court-martial.
This recommendation is then considered by the Commander who convened the Article 32 pretrial investigation, and that Commander then determines in his sole discretion whether the case should be sent to court-martial.
Who is subject to trial by General court-martial?
All military personnel are subject to trial by GCM.
What are the crimes that can be tried by General court-martial?
Trial by GCM is reserved for the most serious criminal offenses, those that would be considered felonies in the civilian criminal system. These crimes include capital and non-capital offenses such as murder, rape, sexual assault, larceny, possession of child pornography, etc.
What are the penalties or sentences that may be adjudged by a General Court-Martial?
A guilty finding following trial by General Court-Martial carries a maximum penalty of confinement as set forth in Uniform Code of Military Justice for the convicted offense; total forfeiture of all pay and allowances for the maximum period set forth in the UCMJ; reduction to the lowest enlisted grade if the accused is an enlisted service members; and a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge for enlisted service members and dismissal of officers.