The Three Categories of Courts-Martial – Summary

This will be the first in a series discussing the three types of courts-martial to which service members may be subject. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provides for three categories of courts-martial. These are (1) Summary Court-Martial, (2) Special Court-Martial, and (3) General Court-Martial. Each type of court-martial is associated with a distinctive character, justification, and punishment.

This week’s blog will focus on the Summary Court-Martial. A Summary Court-Martial involves a single commissioned officer, and is limited insofar as it may only try enlisted service members for non-capital offenses. The grade of the accused service member determines the punishment which may be imposed.

If the service member is above the fourth pay grade, a Summary Court-Martial is capable of imposing any punishment not forbidden by the law, with the following exceptions:

  • Death;
  • Dismissal;
  • Dishonorable or bad conduct discharge;
  • Confinement for more than one month;
  • Hard labor without confinement for more than 45 days;
  • Restriction to specified limits for more than two months; and
  • Forfeiture of more than two-thirds of one month’s pay.

For all other enlisted members, the Summary Court-Martial may also impose confinement for not more than one month and may reduce the accused to E-1, the lowest pay grade.

The accused service member possesses the right to decline trial by Summary Court-Martial. While they do not have the absolute right to an attorney, the hearing will be delayed to allow them sufficient time to retain civilian counsel. Accused service members have the right to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses, produce evidence, and testify or remain silent.