In the military justice system, are you “guilty until proven innocent”?

No.  While it is true that when you join the military voluntarily, you may give up certain freedoms, your constitutional rights stay intact.  Just like in the civilian justice system, an accused is always “innocent until proven guilty.”  It is shocking that this comes as a surprise to some.  Some of the individuals who believe that the military justice system operates under a “guilty until proven innocent” are servicemembers themselves, who might sometime find themselves in charge of others.  In the middle of December, I published a blog about panel members and the facts of U.S. v. Woods, a Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals case (NMCCA).   I write about this case again today because the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) will hear oral argument on this case next week and because it demonstrates that the military justice system is misunderstood by many, to include some officers in the military.   In U.S. v. Woods, the senior member of the court-martial panel in her written questionnaire essentially stated that the military justice system was different because servicemembers are held to a higher standard and therefore “you are guilty until proven innocent.”  Obviously, this court-martial panel member was incorrect.  As pointed out above, the standard in the military, like in the civilian justice system is that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.  The defense in U.S. v. Woods, challenged this panel member for cause.  The military judge conducted an individual voir dire (question and answer session) with her and determined that based on her responses, there was no actual or implied bias held by the panel member.  The judge therefore did not grant the challenge for cause.  There may be a valid defense argument that the military judge in this court-martial erred in not granting the defense challenge and that the appellant suffered because of it.  While the NMCCA upheld the military judge’s decision to not grant the challenge for cause, CAAF may see if differently.  Because of this “guilty until proven innocent”  reverse mindset that some have about the military justice system, some of the clients I represent are punished unfairly by their command prior to even receiving a court-martial.  This punishment sometimes comes in the form of being given extra duties or being treated unfairly in some other way.  When this occurs, the accused servicemember punished unfairly prior to his court-martial is entitled to relief or credit towards any sentence that might be received as a result of the court-martial.  If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial, you need someone with experience who knows how to question and challenge court-martial panel members who have this reverse mindset.  You also need someone who knows when and how to argue for relief for anyone punished unfairly prior to his court-martial.  I have this experience.  Don’t put your trial in the hands of just anyone.  Call today.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

William E. Cassara- Military Law Attorney

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