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What is a court martial?

A court martial is a military trial under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Court martials are said to be summary, special and general, depending upon the gravity of the offense for which the offender is charged.

In a court martial, a board of officers acts as judge and jury in the proceeding.

Depending upon the offense, a court martial can mete out punishments that include reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and allowances, dismissal from the service and incarceration.

Termination of service is one of the punishments that can be handed down by a court martial, and terms of the dismissal may be graduated based on the seriousness of the offense. These graduations include a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), which is similar to a civilian felony conviction, and a Dishonorable Discharge (DD), which is normally reserved as an adjutant to a felony conviction for such offenses as murder. The BCD is punishment for very grievous offenses, such as criminal behavior, desertion, AWOL.

A court martial is very serious. A court martial is the military equivalent of a court trial. For lesser offenses, the military may convene a “Board of Inquiry” (or BOI). A court martial does not inexorably lead to termination of service. The service member on trial could be found innocent, just as a civilian defendant in a civilian court trial can be.

A court martial conviction is normally automatically reviewed and very often the penalties are reduced. Dismissal from the service is an extreme penalty that may be reduced upon appeal.