The Military Courts Martial Process

  • Published
  • By Kerry D. Atkinson
  • Ogden Air Logistics Center Legal Office
Many people don't realize that most court-martial proceedings are open to the public. You can witness the judicial process as long as you are not a witness or a party to the proceedings. Most people think they know what goes on in court because they've watched Law and Order or any number of other TV shows and movies. However, in many ways, especially pertaining to military courts-martial, they are wrong!

Military courts are in some respects the same but in other ways different from civilian courts. What you can expect to see in a military court is an introduction to the proceedings, then opening statements by the prosecution, opening by the defense, evidence and witnesses for the prosecution, evidence and witnesses for the defense, closing argument by both sides, and reading of the verdict and/or sentence.

A military court can be heard by the judge alone or by court members (the equivalent of a jury) composed of officers or of officers and one third enlisted members. This decision is left to the accused and the defense counsel. The accused can enter either a guilty or not guilty plea. If the accused enters a guilty plea, he can still request his sentence be decided by a panel of members or by the judge alone.

Another difference many people will notice in the military court is the court reporter. Most people in the military courts don't recognize the court reporter because he isn't typing on a little keyboard, but rather is the person sitting next to the judge with what looks like an oxygen mask on his face. What he is doing is repeating everything that's being said into a microphone which then gets transcribed by voice recognition software. If you are ever a witness or a court member, you can help the court reporter by not speaking at the same time as someone else, by speaking loudly and clearly, and by not speaking too quickly. Although he can take down at speeds of up to 250 words per minute, some people do, in fact, speak faster than that.

If you would like to see the judicial process in action, contact the legal office at 777 7441 for a schedule of upcoming courts martial that you can attend.