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Is a Court-Martial Conviction Considered a Felony?

Perhaps, but that depends on the circumstances. This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer, and one that every state and nearly every lawyer will answer differently.  But I will try.  Courts-martial convictions are typically considered “felony convictions” if the maximum permissible punishment for the offense is one year or more in military prison.

It doesn’t matter what sentence is imposed, it is based on the maximum punishment the court-martial is able to impose. Maximum permissible punishment is typically based on the nature of the offense, and the type of court-martial.  Summary courts-martial are not considered to be a conviction and, therefore, would almost never be considered a felony. Special courts-martial can impose sentences of up to one year. But prior to May of 2002, Special courts-martial were limited to imposing sentences no longer than six months.  So most states do not consider special courts-martial to be felonies, but if the maximum that could have been imposed if the case had gone to a general court-martial is more than one year, some states may consider it a felony.  General courts-martial are far more severe and can impose any sentence, up to the maximum punishment listed for the particular offense in the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM).  Most states consider a conviction at general court-martial to be a felony, but there are a number of exceptions. For example, if one were sent to a general court-martial for murder and disrespect, and were acquitted of the murder, it is doubtful any state would consider a conviction of a purely military offense such as disrespect to be a felony.

It is important to realize that the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes no distinction between felony and misdemeanor. Therefore, it is up to the individual states to decide whether a conviction at court-martial is either a misdemeanor or a felony. There is simply no hard and fast rule.

To summarize, those convicted by Summary courts-martial, as well as those convicted by Special courts-martial, prior to May 2002, are generally not considered to have a felony conviction on their record. For those convicted by General courts-martial, or Special courts-martial, following May 2002, may have a felony conviction on their record, depending on the maximum punishment authorized for the offense under the MCM, and depending on their individual state.  There.  Simple isn’t it?

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