A defendant in a military court-martial is entitled to most of the same constitutional rights as a defendant in a civilian trial.
For example, the defendant has the right to a speedy and public trial, to confront and question witnesses, to refuse to answer questions that might be incriminating. A guilty verdict requires proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."
However, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there are several differences regarding juries, verdicts and pretrial proceedings.
For example, a defendant is not entitled to a jury of one's peers.
Members of a court-martial jury, or panel, are usually officers with a rank equal to or higher than the defendant's. An enlisted person on trial may request that at least one-third of the jury be enlisted men.
The panel is not selected by random as in the civilian system, but is chosen by the commander of the military organization to which the defendant is assigned. The commander is prohibited from telling or implying to the panel members how they should decide the case.
Unlike civilian criminal juries, a court-martial panel is not required to have 12 members. In most cases, the panel has five to seven members.
Its verdict, except in mandatory death penalty cases, is by a two-thirds vote, not a unanimous one.
The same panel may sentence a defendant by a two-thirds vote. A sentence of more than 10 years requuires a three-fourths vote; a death sentence verdict must be unanimous.
Convictions and sentences are reviewed by the military commander who ordered the court-martial. The commander has the power to reduce the sentence or reverse a guilty finding.
These results are then automatically reviewed by courts of military review in each service. Cases can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, which has three civilian judges.
One of the major differences between a civilian trial and a court-martial takes place before charges are filed.
In the civilian system, the grand jury proceedings in which prosecutors seek indictments are secret. Even after being charged, a person does not always receive all the information presented there.
In the military, this precharge proceeding, called an Article 32 investigation, is not held in secret. A defendant and the defense attorneys are present; they can question and confront witnesses and can discover the prosecutor's case before any charges are formally laid.
Defendants in courts-martial are automatically provided with a military defense attorney, but they are free to hire their own lawyers, who may be civilians.
The top legal officers for the Army, Navy and Air Force are called the judge advocate generals of those military departments. The Marines come under the Navy's judge advocate general.