What happens in a court-martial?

In the military justice system, a court-martial follows procedures outlined in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. All branches of service in the US military follow the same rules and procedures. Below are the general steps of a court-martial:

  • Preferral and Referral of Charges: The first steps in a court-martial are the preferral and referral of charges. If the case is a General court-martial, then an Article 32 investigation is conducted before referral of charges. 
  • Arraignment: After the referral of charges, a Military Judge is assigned to the case. The judge sets deadlines. Then, the judge arraigns the accused and sets a trial date. At an arraignment, the accused enters pleas (guilty or not guilty) and selects a forum (judge or jury). Before trial, there is a motion session.
  • Voir Dire: At the trial, the first step is Voir Dire. Voir Dire is called panel or jury selection.
  • Opening Statements: Next come the opening statements by the prosecution and defense.]
  • Presentation of the evidence: Following openings, the Government presents its case in chief. The defense may cross-examine prosecution witnesses. When the prosecution rests their case, the defense may present evidence (if they want to). If the defense presents evidence, the Government may present a case in rebuttal.
  • Jury Instructions: After the presentation of evidence, the Military Judge instructs the jury on the law to apply to the evidence.
  • Closing Arguments: Next, the prosecution and defense give closing arguments.
  • Jury Deliberations: The panel then deliberates in a closed session. They vote by secret written ballot on all of the charges. After they reach a verdict, the verdict is announced in open court.
  • Sentencing Proceedings: If there is a guilty verdict on any charge, the court immediately moves into a sentencing hearing. Here, both sides may present evidence and argument in mitigation and aggravation. After the judge or jury decides on a sentence, the sentence is announced.
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