military law

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military law

military law, system of rules established for the government of persons in the armed forces. In most countries the legislature establishes the code of military law. It is distinguished from both martial law (rule by domestic military forces over an area) and military government (rule by the military over occupied foreign territory). The scope of military law differs somewhat in peace and in war. In time of peace it is generally limited to military offenses—e.g., absence without leave, desertion, breach of orders; during war it usually extends to crimes of a civil nature as well, and the penalties may be more severe.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice

Regular systems of military law existed in ancient Rome, with severe penalties for such offenses as desertion. In the Middle Ages procedures were less regularized, but written codes began to appear. The origin of much military law is found in the codes and statutes enacted in England in the 17th cent. These were substantially adopted in the United States.

It was widely felt after World War II that many abuses had occurred in the administration of American military justice and that excessively severe sentences had been imposed, especially on the enlisted ranks. The armed forces responded by establishing civilian review boards, which recommended reduction of the punishment inflicted on a large percentage of those convicted (some 100,000) by general court-martial during the war. In 1951, Congress extensively revised the codes of military law enacting a uniform code of military justice for all branches of the armed services. This code placed operations more in the hands of professional lawyers and ensured fairer review procedures.

An important change permitted an enlisted person tried by a general court-martial to demand that one third of the court be composed of enlisted personnel. The uniform code defines the offenses for which a person under the jurisdiction of the armed forces may be subjected to court-martial. In addition to allowing punishments by the commanding officer, including confinement not to exceed one week, the code establishes three levels of court-martial. The summary court-martial consists of a single officer, and may impose a maximum penalty of imprisonment for one month. The special court-martial consists of at least three officers and may impose a prison sentence of up to six months. The general court-martial is composed of five members and one law officer who must be a trained lawyer admitted to practice before a state's highest court. The general court-martial may impose any authorized sentence including dishonorable discharge or death.

One of the principal differences between the procedure in court-martial and in criminal cases in civil courts is the absence of a jury. Cases are decided by a vote of two thirds or three fourths of the court, depending on the severity of the offense. For the death penalty, the vote must be unanimous. The accused is permitted to have counsel, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and to enjoy the usual protections of the law of evidence.


See W. B. Aycock and S. W. Wurfel, Military Law under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (1955, repr. 1973); R. O. Everett, Military Justice in the Armed Forces of the United States (1956); R. S. Rivkin, G.I. Rights and Army Justice (1970); W. E. Schug, United States Law and the Armed Forces (1972); J. W. Bishop, Jr., Justice under Fire (1974); R. H. Kohn, ed., Military Laws of the U.S. (1979).

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References in periodicals archive ?
The JKCCS said, the information obtained under Right to Information (RTI) on army court-martials makes clear that court-martials have essentially served as a convenient and internal mechanism to ensure immunity to army personnel in the few cases where the investigative agencies have probed and indicted specific accused.
It said court-martial procedures are opaque and do not provide any role for the family members of the victims and the recent decision of the military court, particularly the order for bail, suggests that the culprits in this case might be acquitted as the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007 stated that 'bail may not be granted if reasonable grounds of guilt exist'.
The military said no date had been set for the court-martials hearings.
Thus, shortly after not imposing a capital sentence in the Goliah and Browning court-martials, substantially the same panel sentenced Wallace Baker to death, perhaps troubled by what they perceived to be a growing outbreak of dissidence in the 55th Massachusetts.
A week after Baker's mutiny, Hartwell and another officer testified at Goliah's court-martial and cited the pay issue as the salient cause of tension within the regiment.
A court-martial comprised mostly of the same officers who tried Goliah convened to try Baker for mutiny; the same man who prosecuted and successfully argued against punishing Goliah with death served as judge advocate.
While endemic racism in the Union army tainted the disciplinary process on other levels, the records reveal that officers on general court-martial panels wrestled with providing fair judicial process to black defendants while maintaining discipline so that African American soldiers received equal treatment and justice in cases involving capital-level crimes.
(The field officer court technically replaced regimental and garrison courts-martial, but regimental courts remained in use well after promulgation of the relevant legislation.) With identical jurisdiction as a regimental court-martial, the field officer court was to forward more serious cases to a general court-martial.
For example, there is only one type of Naval Court-Martial, but following recent reforms, it is similar in most respects.
The English Court-Martial system appears as early as 1296 in the role of a military court attached to the army in Scotland.
The court-martial which tried Lance Sergeant Findlay was convened under Section 86 of the Army Act 1955 by the convening officer, who would be a General Officer in command of the formation to which the accused's unit was attached.
Similarly, when the finding and sentence of the court-martial was confirmed by the convening officer it was done so on advice from the Judge Advocate General.