Levels of Courts-Martial

Overview of the different levels of courts-martial:

Congress established three levels of courts-martial:
General, Special, and Summary. The levels of court differ according to the jurisdictional limitations on punishment they can impose. Punishments can include confinement, punitive discharge, forfeitures, reduction (enlisted only), hard labor without confinement (enlisted only), reprimand, a fine, and death for certain offenses. The characteristics of each type of court-martial are set out below:

YouTube video

1. Summary Courts-Martial (Arts. 20 and 24). This, the lowest level of court-martial, is accorded less procedural protection. Military judges do not preside over these proceedings, there is no right to defense counsel, and the “court” is composed of one officer, usually a non-lawyer. However, a finding of guilty at a SCM is not recognized as a federal conviction. The maximum punishment allowed is 1 month confinement, hard labor without confinement for 45 days, restriction for 2 months, or forfeiture of 2/3 pay (a Soldier above the rank of SPC may not be confined or given hard labor without confinement, or reduced except to the next pay grade). See RCM 1301 et seq. and DA Pam 27-7 for procedures.

2. Special Courts-Martial (Arts. 19 and 23). Similar to a civilian “misdemeanor” court, the maximum punishment that can be adjudged at a SPCM is a bad conduct discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade (E-1), confinement for one year, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for one year. A quorum consists of three members.

3. General Courts-Martial (Arts. 18 and 22). Reserved for the more serious offenses, a GCM may adjudge the maximum punishment allowed for a particular offense (e.g., death for murder). In a trial with panel members, at least five members must sit to constitute a quorum.

YouTube video

Scroll to Top