What Does Court Martial Mean?

Learn what court martial means and its importance in military discipline. Explore examples, case studies, and statistics to understand its significance.


Court martial is a term that is often heard in military circles, but what exactly does it mean? In simple terms, a court martial is a legal proceeding for enforcing military discipline, typically involving the trial of military personnel accused of breaking military law.

Types of Court Martial

There are three types of court martial: summary, special, and general. Summary court martial is the least serious, special court martial is for intermediate offenses, and general court martial is for serious offenses.


The process of a court martial involves a panel of military officers serving as the jury, a military judge presiding over the trial, and both prosecution and defense attorneys presenting their cases.


One high-profile court martial case is that of US Army Private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. Another example is the court martial of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted his post in Afghanistan and was dishonorably discharged.


According to the Department of Defense, there were 1,878 court martial cases in 2019, with a conviction rate of 87%. These statistics highlight the seriousness with which the military treats offenses committed by its personnel.

Case Studies

In one case study, a US Navy sailor was court martialed for stealing military equipment worth $15,000. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years in military prison. In another case, an Air Force officer was court martialed for sexual assault and received a dishonorable discharge.


Court martial is a legal process that plays a crucial role in maintaining discipline and order within the military. It ensures that military personnel are held accountable for their actions and serves as a deterrent to future misconduct. Understanding what court martial means is essential for all military personnel to uphold the principles of justice and integrity.

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