Summary Court-Martial – Trial by summary court-martial provides a simplified process for the resolution of charges involving relatively minor incidents of misconduct. The summary court-martial involves a single officer who, depending upon service branch policies, is a judge advocate (a military attorney). The maximum punishment a summary court-martial may impose is considerably less than a special or general court-martial. The accused must consent to be tried by a summary court-martial.
Special Court-Martial – A special court-martial is the intermediate court level, consisting of a military judge, trial counsel (prosecutor), defense counsel, and a minimum of three officers sitting as a panel of court members or jury. An enlisted accused may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. An accused may also request trial by judge alone. Regardless of the offenses involved, a special court-martial sentence is limited to no more than twelve months confinement (or a lesser amount if the offenses have a lower maximum), forfeiture of two-thirds basic pay per month for six months, a bad-conduct discharge (for enlisted personnel), and certain lesser punishments. An officer accused in a special court-martial cannot be dismissed from the service or be confined.
General Court-Martial – A general court-martial is the most serious level of military courts. The general court-martial consists of a military judge, trial counsel, defense counsel, and at least five court members. As before, an enlisted accused may request a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. Unless the case is one in which the death sentence could be given out, an officer or enlisted accused may also request trial by judge alone. In a general court-martial, the maximum punishment is that established for each offense under the Manual for Courts-Martial, and may include death (for certain offenses), confinement, a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge for enlisted personnel, a dismissal for officers, or a wide number of lesser forms of punishment. A pretrial investigation under Article 32, UCMJ, must be conducted before a case may be referred to a general court-martial, unless waived by the accused service member.