Once a court-martial gets into the courtroom, it has two basic phases. First, there is the “findings” phase of the court-martial, which is the part of the trial where the judge or “panel” determines whether the government has proven the accused guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, there is the sentencing phase of the court-martial, which only occurs if the accused is found guilty.
During the findings phase of the court-martial, the government goes first, as they have the burden of proof. The government prosecutors (Trial Counsel in the military) present witnesses and other evidence in an attempt to prove the accused guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused has the right to “detailed” military counsel, provided free of charge, or to retain civilian counsel at his or her own expense. After the prosecution has presented its case, the defense can present their case, should they choose to do so.
Both sides are then able to present “rebuttal” evidence or testimony, to counter evidence presented by the other side.. Once all the evidence in the court-martial has been presented, the judge will instruct the panel. The will then deliberate to decide whether the government has met its burden of proving the accused guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the accused is found guilty, the sentencing phase begins immediately following the announcement of the verdict. This is one way court-martials differ from civilian trials: court-martials occur in a very short period of time. In a civilian trial, things can continue on for years. In the sentencing phase of the court-martial, the government again gets to go first. Usually, the prosecutors will present evidence on the impact that the crime had on the victim, including how the military mission was affected. The accused then presents evidence in mitigation, usually in terms of evidence about their military career, in a attempt to obtain a less severe punishment than what the prosecutors are requesting.
In addition to these basic phases you see in the courtroom, a court-martial has significant pre-trial and post-trial components. William Cassara is an expert at navigating these court-martial processes and, as a court-martial defense attorney, he will find inconsistencies and injustices to attack at every stage of the proceedings, from the investigation all the way through the end of the appellate process. If you need a court martial attorney, please call William Cassara today at (888) 288-3347 for a free consultation.