Military Appellate Law: Robust and Unique Protections for Servicemembers (Part I)

There used to be a day long ago where military justice was fast and furious.  Servicemembers accused of crimes might have found themselves going from accusation to conviction quickly with almost no chance to present their case.  Military justice has changed drastically for the better.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice now offers an extraordinary amount of protections for those accused of crimes.  In addition to the protections provided to servicemembers facing a court-martial, the appellate process following a court-martial is loaded with unique protections for appealing members.  The purpose of this blog series is to provide an overview of the military appellate process as well explain some of the unique protections servicemembers have within this system.  It is important to remember that the military appellate process is complex and is not something that should be taken on without experienced representation.  I have vast experience in this area and have gotten great results for my clients appealing their court-martials.


Military appellate courts consist of a two-tiered system.  Each service has its own appellate court which serves as the first tier.  These service courts are the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA), the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA), the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (N-MCCA) and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals (CGCCA).  The judges on these courts are military officers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  The second appellate tier is the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF).  The judges on this court are presidential appointees who are civilians.  These two tiers provide appellants with the potential to have their case heard by both military justices and civilian justices and therefore two different points of view.


Article 66, UCMJ dictates which court-martial cases will be heard by the service courts of criminal appeals.  The current version of Article 66, UCMJ states that these appellate courts will conduct an automatic review of any court-martial that results in a death, dismissal, discharge, or confinement for one year or more.  A proposed amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 (NDAA FY 17) would modify Article 66 to direct automatic review by appellate courts of court-martials resulting in death, dismissal, discharge, or confinement for two years or more.


Automatic review is not the only way to have your case heard by the first tier.  The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) may direct that a case be reviewed by the service appellate court under Article 69.  Additionally, these courts may entertain petitions for extraordinary writs.  The proposed NDAA FY 17 amendment states that an accused may petition for review in cases involving more than six months confinement but less than two years confinement.


Article 67, UCMJ dictates when a case will be reviewed by the CAAF.  If an appellant’s sentence includes death or if The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) orders the case sent, CAAF will review the case.  Additionally, an appellant has sixty days to petition CAAF and request a review of his or her case by showing “good cause.”  If appellant meets this burden, CAAF may agree to review the case.  I have assisted many clients in showing good cause to have their case reviewed by this second tier.


On appeal, the two tiers of military appellate courts hear many issues that are unique to the military.  In the next few blogs in this series I will discuss some of the unique appellate issues argued in military appellate courts, such as, ineffective assistance of counsel, Grostefon issues and speedy trial.  On appeal, make sure you choose an attorney to represent you who is familiar with the intricacies of military criminal appellate law.  I have the experience that you need.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

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