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How does the appellate process work?

Your appellate lawyer, whether it be an active duty JAG or a civilian attorney, is responsible for preparing a “brief” or written pleading, to present to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This is done by carefully reading the record of trial, or transcript, and identifying legal issues that may result in relief for the client. These legal issues can relate to the sufficiency of the evidence, legal errors committed by the military judge or defense counsel, or other grounds.

Once these issues are identified, your attorney will prepare a brief. The government then has attorneys who will prepare a brief opposing your brief. Both sides then have the opportunity to present oral argument to the Court of Criminal Appeals and/or provide additional material to the court. An attorney with experience in court-martial appeals can best advise you as to the legal issues that may be raised in your case.

If the Court of Criminal Appeals “affirms” or sustains your conviction in whole or in part, then the case can be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces http://www.armfor.uscourts.gov. This court consists of 5 civilian judges who only hear appeals of court-martial convictions. Unlike the Courts of Criminal Appeals, this is not an automatic appeal, and your lawyer has to file a written petition requesting that the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces hear the case. Again, an attorney with experience in court-martial appeals can best advise you as to the legal issues that may be raised in your case.

Review by the Judge Advocate General

As noted above, if the sentence does not include confinement for more than one year, a punitive discharge or death, the appeal is then processed by the Judge Advocate General for your service. You have two years from the date the convening authority takes final action on your case to file an appeal with the Judge Advocate General. Great care should be taken in researching and drafting this appeal. An attorney with experience in court-martial appeals can best advise you as to the legal issues that may be raised in your case, and how to file such an appeal.