Court Martial Definition

Learn about court martials, types of offenses, and examples of high-profile cases. Understand the process and statistics behind military tribunals.

What is a Court Martial?

A court martial is a military court or tribunal that is convened to try members of the armed forces who are accused of committing offenses under military law. These offenses can range from desertion and insubordination to more serious crimes such as treason or espionage.

Types of Court Martials

  • Summary Court Martial: Handles minor offenses with a single officer presiding.
  • Special Court Martial: Deals with more serious offenses with a panel of military members.
  • General Court Martial: Reserved for the most serious offenses with a panel of military members and a military judge.

Process of a Court Martial

The accused is provided with a lawyer and has the right to present a defense. The trial follows a similar structure to civilian courts, with opening statements, witness testimony, and closing arguments. The panel or judge then deliberates and renders a verdict.

Examples of Court Martials

In 2009, Army Major Nidal Hasan was court martialed for the Fort Hood shooting, where he killed 13 people and injured 30 others. He was sentenced to death for his crimes. In 2013, Army Private Chelsea Manning was court martialed for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Statistics on Court Martials

According to the Department of Defense, there were 1,609 court martial cases in 2020, with the most common offenses being larceny, drug abuse, and assault. The conviction rate was 85%, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment.

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