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Understanding the Differences Between a Military Court Martial and a Civilian Trial

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo

The American justice system is a complex web, especially for those unfamiliar with the process. One common area of confusion involves the differences between a military court martial and a civilian trial. 

The two legal systems may seem similar on the surface, but they have several key differences that can significantly affect the outcome of a case. Every situation is unique, and it’s critical to reach out to a legal professional to better understand the key differences between military and civilian trials, including what they mean for service members facing legal proceedings.

The seasoned California criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo explains more on these differences below.

Jurisdiction and Authority

One of the most important differences between a military court martial and a civilian trial is the jurisdiction and authority of the court. A military court-martial is a legal forum established by the military to prosecute service members for violations of military law. These courts are authorized to hear cases involving military offenses such as desertion, insubordination, or other crimes committed by service members in the course of their duties.

Civilian trials, on the other hand, are conducted by civilian courts and are authorized to hear cases involving federal or state criminal law violations. Civilian trials may also hear cases involving offenses that occurred on military bases or involving military personnel, but only if the military has declined to exercise jurisdiction over the case.

Burden of Proof

In a military court martial, the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the same standard used in civilian trials. This provides all the accused with the benefit of the doubt, often providing an avenue for a solid defense to ensure that the burden is fully met.

Jury Composition

The composition of juries in military and civilian trials is also different. In a military court martial, the jury, known as a panel, comprises military officers of the same rank as the accused. The panel must usually consist of at least five members, but the size can vary depending on the type of court-martial being conducted.

On the other hand, civilian trials are heard by juries composed of civilian citizens selected from a pool of eligible citizens. The jury size can vary depending on the type of trial but is usually between six and twelve members.

Appeals Process

The appeals process for military and civilian trials is also different. In a military court martial, the accused can appeal their case to the military’s highest court, known as the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The court has the power to overturn decisions made by lower military courts.

Conversely, civil trials may be appealed to a higher court, such as a state appellate court or the Supreme Court. The process of appealing a civilian trial can be complex and time-consuming, and the accused may need to engage the services of an appellate attorney to successfully navigate the appeals process.

Get Legal Help

There are many more complexities to military and civilian trials that can significantly impact a case’s outcome. As an Orange County military defense attorney, I understand the challenges faced by those confronting these systems and can provide effective representation to all community members. 

Suppose you or a loved one is facing proceedings in either a military or civilian court. In that case, it is essential to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive a fair and just outcome.

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