Special Court-Martial

Criminal Defense Lawyer John L. Calcagni, III

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What is a Special court-martial?

The next highest level of court-martial is called the Special Court-Martial (SPCM). Essentially, there are two types of SPCM: the Straight Special and the Special Court-Martial empowered to adjudge a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), or otherwise referred to as a BCD-Special. SPCM are used to prosecute service members accused of committing non-capital offenses and are typically employed to prosecute offenses that are considered ‘misdemeanors’ under the civilian criminal justice system.

With a SPCM, an accused is tried before a 3-member panel alone without the presence of a military judge. This occurs very infrequently in the military. For all practice purposes, the Special Court-Martial empowered to adjudge a Bad Conduct Discharge is the most commonly employed SPCM used in the military justice. Here, an accused has a choice to have his case tried before a military judge alone, or a military judge in conjunction with a minimum of 3-member panel. If the service member being prosecuted is an enlisted person, he has the additional option of requesting that the panel hearing his case be comprised of enlisted service members.

At trial by SPCM, the accused is entitled to be represented by counsel. A free military attorney from the trial defense service is appointed to represent the accused at no charge. The accused also has the option of hiring a civilian defense attorney at his or her own expense. There are many attorneys in the civilian economy who advertise for military civilian defense, however only few have the necessary experience and qualifications to effectively represent one at trial by court-martial. Because advertising can often be misleading, accused who wish to consult with or hire a civilian defense attorney should take the time to learn about the attorney’s experience and exposure with the military justice system and rate of success with representing service members.

Who is subject to trial by Special Court-Martial?

Just as in the case of Summary court-martial, all enlisted service members on active duty, as well as those civilians who are involved with military activity in some fashion are subject to trial by SPCM. Additionally, all classes of enlisted personnel who were not subject to the Summary court-martial, are tried at this level of court-martial; to wit, officers, cadets or midshipmen.

What are the penalties or sentences that may be adjudged by a Special Court-Martial?

A guilty finding following trial by Special Court-Martial carries a maximum penalty of up to one year of confinement, forfeiture of 2/3 pay per month for one year; reduction to the lowest enlisted grade if the accused is an enlisted service members, and a bad conduct discharge for enlisted service members only.