Court Martial
Military and Veterans Law Center

What is a "Court-Martial"?

While administrative action in the military is concerned with violations of the code of conduct unique to each of the armed forces, there is also a special procedure for trying criminal cases in the military. A military criminal trial, known as a court-martial, can range in severity much like civilian criminal cases. Depending on the case’s particulars, court-martial proceedings can last anywhere from one week to one year.

With its high concentration of military personnel, the San Antonio area sees many such cases – and as with civilian criminal trials, knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel is vital for the defendant.

Court-Martial Proceedings

Although there are several types of court-martial, all are formally instigated by a “preferral” of charges: that is, an affirmation from the commanding officer of the accused that he or she believes in the truth of the charges brought against them. The senior officer in charge of the proceedings – known as the “convening authority” – will formally refer the charges to trial.

If the case is taken to a general court-martial (more details below), then a preliminary investigation into the facts of the case must first be made. This is known as an Article 32 Investigation, named for the section in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that describes it.


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    Types of Court-Martial

    As mentioned above, there are three types of court-martial, determined by the severity of the charges in question:

    • Summary Court-Martial – The lowest and usually simplest form, a summary court-martial deals with minor offenses and technically isn’t even a criminal trial. It also affords the defendant few rights; for example, the right to a public military lawyer is not necessarily included. The defendant may refuse a summary court-martial if he or she chooses, but that will likely result in a special court-martial.
    • Special Court-Martial – At the intermediate level, special courts-martial deal with cases that were refused at the summary level and those dealing with more serious offenses such as drug use, assault, desertion, disobedience, and others. Although not the most serious, a special court-martial can still lead to severe consequences like confinement, discharge, or reduced pay.
    • General Court-Martial – The general court-martial is comparable to a felony civilian trial. In civilian cases, general courts-martial are reserved for serious charges, including murder, drug distribution, grand theft, rape, and arson. Because of this severity, a general court-martial cannot proceed without an Article 32 investigation taking place first.


    There are also preliminary Article 32 hearings. These hearings allow the accused to review the evidence against them and refute it. Sometimes the defense can have the case referred to a lower court or dismissed altogether, but if nothing else, Article 32 allows the accused and his or her attorney to be well-prepared for the general court-martial.

    A Veteran of Military Law

    San Antonio is home to an array of military bases – Martindale Army Airfield, Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base, and many others. With over 25 years of experience in both civilian and military criminal defense, and as a disabled veteran, Stephen Brodsky considers this his community. And, having successfully defended clients against a wide variety of criminal charges – from DUIs to violent crimes and everything in between – he’s well-equipped to handle the unique challenge of court-martial trials.