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Understanding the Military Justice System

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo

The military justice system is separate from the civilian justice system. When a person enters the military, they are subject to a unique set of rules, responsibilities, and privileges. Military proceedings have separate courts, court proceedings, and penalties from civilian courts.

If you are a member of the United States military and you are facing criminal charges, the California military criminal defense attorney William W. Bruzzo can help.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice System

Military members are governed by a code of justice called the United Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Civilians are subjected to local, state, and federal laws. The UCMJ has no authority over civilians, but military members can be charged with crimes under the UCMJ.

UCMJ includes a specific set of rules and regulations that Congress created in the 1950s. When the military brings criminal charges against service members, they will use the UCMJ as the primary guidance system during the military criminal process.

The Court-Martial System

The military also has its own court-martial system that has become an autonomous legal structure with laws and processes that are separate and different from civilian criminal proceedings. Many of the crimes under the court-martial system aren’t considered crimes under civilian law.

For example, desertion is regarded as a crime under the UCMJ, but not for civilians. Other military crimes exclusive to military members include failure to obey orders, insubordination, sedition, and mutiny.

There are several types of court-martials. For minor crimes, a summary court-martial will usually be used. This process only involves one commission officer, and penalties include

  • Confinement for 30 days
  • Forfeiture of 66% of a month’s pay
  • Reduction to the lowest pay grade

There is a special court-martial process for misdemeanor-level crimes with a penalty of confinement for up to one year, loss of pay, and reduction in pay grade. Service members can also be discharged from service as part of the special court-martial process.

The last category is called general court-martial and is reserved for the most serious types of crimes. as a result, a military judge and at least five enlisted service members are required to make up the general court marshall. In some cases, the death penalty is possible in general court-martial cases.

Under Article 15 of the UCMJ, military leaders can impose non-judicial punishment on their subordinates for minor infractions. In these instances, commanders have the right to carry out sentencing without the presence or involvement of a judge or jury. The appeals process for military service members is also different. Each branch of the military has its own appeals court.

Judge Advocate Generals (JAG)

If you have been charged under the UCMJ, you can be appointed a JAG defense attorney who is a service member and an attorney. You also have the right to hire a civilian attorney to help represent you in your case. 

Hiring the Right Attorney Matters

If you are facing criminal charges as a military service member, it’s crucial that you hire an experienced California military defense attorney to represent you. JAG defense attorneys can only represent service members once the investigation has been completed. Working with an attorney as soon as you are charged can improve your chances of success. Contact attorney William Bruzzo of Bruzzo Law to schedule a complimentary initial consultation. 

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