Military Court Martial Seeks Justice

by Anonymous Reader

A military court martial administers justice in military courtrooms in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and prevailing military law.


A prosecutor (trial counsel) and defender (defense counsel) are appointed. The defense counsel must be an attorney (to ensure the rights of the accused are protected). It is not required that the prosecutor representing the government be an attorney, but generally will be at a court-martial. The accused (defendant) will be provided with a military lawyer at no cost. The accused may also hire a civilian attorney if he chooses, at his own expense.

So a defense fund is not "necessary," but if you choose to contribute to one, you may.

The evidence presented in the court martial provides the basis for determining a finding of guilty or not guilty by the court, just as in a civilian court. The court does not decide based on public opinion.

The purpose of a military court martial is to find the truth and administer justice.

Thank you for that succinct explanation for our readers.

While it is true that the accused's decision to hire civilian counsel is at his own expense, I think it is easy to understand why defense funds are often established, especially in cases in which the general public feels the court martial proceedings are unwarranted, as it does in this case.

It is one way of showing public support for the accused, by helping to pay his substantial expenses to defend himself.

The accused SEALs in this case are E-5's and E-6's. Their base pay, depending on how many years of service they have, is likely in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 annually.

For a court martial such as this, where the trial was conducted in Iraq, it would not be unusual for the defense costs to exceed that amount. Remember that the accused has to pay the costs for his attorney(s) to travel to Iraq, and for their time while they're there and traveling both directions, since that time is devoted exclusively to this case. They likely cannot be working on other cases and billing other clients for their time.

Travel to Iraq from the U.S. takes more than 24 hours (each way). So if the attorney's fee is $300 an hour (not an exorbitant amount, and just used for example since we don't know what his actual charges are), and he bills an 8-hour day, that's $2400 per day. There would be two days of travel, plus one day of trial (for Keefe), plus however many days of preparation were necessary in Iraq. We presume the defense counsel wanted to interview the alleged victim in this case before he testified, so let's figure one day of preparation. Now we're up to 4 days.

The time difference between the East Coast of the U.S. (where the SEALs are stationed) and Baghdad is +7 hours. So it really throws your internal time clock off. When you wake up at 6 a.m. in Baghdad, your body thinks it's 11 p.m. Therefore, most people making that trip would schedule a day to recover and adjust before beginning work. So that puts us up to five days for the trip to Baghdad just for the trial.

If we're billing 8-hour days at $300 an hour, the bill for the trial alone would be in the neighborhood of $12,000. And that doesn't include the costs of air fare, lodging, and meals or the hundreds of hours of investigation and preparation that have gone into the case before trial.

(We don't know how much the defense counsel in these cases are charging to represent the SEALs. These figures are merely an example.)

So patriotic Americans, grateful for the service of these SEALs on their behalf, have set up a defense fund to help them pay their legal expenses. They believe it doesn't seem right for these guys to have to bankrupt themselves in order to prove their innocence of these charges.

Demanding a court martial instead of accepting nonjudicial punishment is risky business, because the stakes at a court martial are so much higher. At nonjudicial punishment, the maximum sentence is dependent upon the rank of the commanding officer imposing punishment and the paygrade of the accused.

If the commanding officer of these SEALs were in paygrades O-4 to O-6, the maximum punishment that could be imposed at nonjudicial punishment (called Captain's Mast in the Navy, Office Hours in the Marines, and Article 15 in the Army and Air Force) is:

-- Admonition or reprimand;

-- Correctional custody (the brig or stockade) for not more than 30 days;

-- Forfeiture of not more than 1/2 of one month's pay per month for two months;

-- Reduction of one pay grade (but not imposable on E-7 and above, or E-6 and above in the Marine Corps);

-- Extra duties for not more than 45 days;

-- Restriction for not more than 60 days (limited to 45 days if extra duty also imposed).

In the Navy and Marine Corps, E-3 and below embarked on or attached to a vessel can be confined to the brig on bread and water or diminished rations for not more than 3 days.

It is unlikely that all would be imposed at the same nonjudicial punishment proceeding; the commanding officer would choose from among those options whatever he or she believed appropriate to the offense.

At a Special Court-Martial, however, the stakes are a good bit higher. One convicted there faces the possibility of:

-- A Bad Conduct Discharge (which eliminates some veterans benefits earned during that enlistment);

-- Reduction in pay grade to E-1;

-- Confinement for not more than 6 months; and

-- Forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for six months.

Again, the military judge or members (jury) imposing the sentence would choose from among those options whatever punishment they deemed appropriate for the offense(s). It is not unusual for a court-martial to "max them out," in other words, to impose all of the above punishments, if the offense warrants.

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