Military law covers those people who serve in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and addresses related regulations and ordinances. Since the Constitution gives Congress the authority to act in military matters, military law is a component of federal law. Military lawyers serve with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of a particular branch of service. Military law is recognized by civil courts and is considered to be in effect in both peace and wartime.
The Role of a Military Lawyer
A military lawyer might represent a person facing a court martial, who is involved in a divorce or family law matter, or who has been charged with a crime. Additional examples of cases when a military member might need legal representation could include an enlisted individual who has been accused of committing a war crime, someone who needs military benefits after a denial or someone who needs to delay reporting for duty due to personal or family matters.
Issues Covered under Military Law
The Uniform Code of Military Justice addresses all aspects of military law. It not only applies to active duty personnel, but it can also apply to certain retired individuals, reserve members and members of the National Guard. The UCMJ covers a wide range of topics, including the following:
- The jurisdiction of the UCMJ
- The conduct of military personnel
- Military records and their release
- Proper discipline and order in the military
- Court martials, including their jurisdiction and composition
- The treatment of prisoners both in the United States and abroad
- Military discharges
- Punishment prohibited as cruel and unusual
- Delivery of offenders to civil authorities
- Criminal matters specific to the military, such as insubordination toward a superior officer, conspiracy, absence without leave, malingering, desertion and other related legal offenses
When a service member does not follow the expected code of conduct, his or her superior officer might seek non-judicial sanctions, such as reprimands, demotion, additional duties or even confinement. In other cases, the member could be subject to a court martial.
Court martials include specific procedures and rules that must be followed. They are categorized as summary, special or general, depending upon the number of members and the type of offense. Summary court martials are rare and apply only to enlisted personnel. There is no jury in such a proceeding. Special court martials apply to offenses of medium severity and consist of a judge, an attorney for the prosecution, an attorney for the defendant and a jury.
General court martials are the harshest and are usually applicable to the most serious offenses such as murder, robbery or rape. A conviction can also result in incarceration. Criminal cases include desertion, fraudulent enlistment, absence without leave and many more offenses.
The Manual for Courts-Martial covers military arraignments, pre-trial procedures and motions, plea agreements, trial procedures, rules of evidence, sentencing, post-trial appeals and other rules and regulations. While defendants are free to represent themselves in a court martial, military law is quite complex, and a military lawyer will often have a better understanding of the nuances of military regulations. In some cases, the service member’s conduct is viewed so seriously that the military severs his or her service via a dishonorable discharge.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.