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Navigating the Military Justice System: a Guide for Service Members 

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo

When a service member is suspected of a military crime due to breaking the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or is arrested, the service member will face the military justice system. The service member’s commander or a criminal investigation agency will decide on disciplinary action. They will determine what type of court-martial trial you may face as a servicemember. 

Understanding how to navigate the military justice system can help protect yourself and your rights. For assistance defending against a military crime, the Orange County military lawyer William W. Bruzzo can provide guidance and support.

The Role of the Commanding Officer in the Military Justice System

Commanding officers serve a unique role in the military justice system. The commanding officer usually decides whether the service member will be prosecuted. Commanders generally turn crimes over to criminal investigative agencies like the Navy’s NCIS or Army’s CID for serious offenses. Investigative agencies automatically handle sexual assault and rape cases. The commander of the relevant military installation or commander usually takes less serious crimes.

What Is the UCMJ?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a set of federal laws that define the military justice system. The UCMJ sets forth criminal offenses and violations. It also contains rules for court-martialing service members and conducting military trials. Finally, the UCMJ sets out military court procedures and lists the maximum punishment for each offense. 

Courts in the Military Justice System

If you’re a service member and you’ve been court-martialed, you will appear before the courts-martial court. Military courts are necessary because some criminal offenses are unique to service members, including insubordination, desertion, and being absent without leave. If you are found guilty, there are three appellate courts through which you can appeal:

  • The court of criminal appeals
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
  • United States Supreme Court

What Options Does the Commander Have Regarding My Case?

The commander may decide that the accused service member is innocent and take no further accidents. They may take administrative action, which includes:

  • Mandatory counseling
  • A formal reprimand
  • Involuntary separation from the military

The commander may implement a non-judicial punishment (NJP). In this case, the commander holds a hearing in which rules of evidence don’t apply. You have the right to speak or call witnesses on your behalf. If the commander rules against you, you can appeal to a more senior commander.

Finally, the commander may decide to send the case to court-martial. There are three types of court-martial: summary, special, or general. Only senior commanders have the authority to send a case for a general court-martial. Cases are heard by individual justices or panels, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Each branch has a Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) of military officers who are also lawyers. A JAG officer will prosecute you. As a service member, you have the right to be appointed a JAG officer who will defend you if your case involves a serious offense.

Discuss Your Case with a Skilled Military Defense Attorney

If you’re facing charges as a service member, it’s crucial that you work with an attorney who understands the UCMJ and the military justice system. Contact the California military criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo today to learn more about how you can defend your rights. 

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