As the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, can the president be court martialed? You’ll find all you need to know about this question here.
The president is the number one citizen of the United States of America. The Constitution also vests on the president the authority over the armed forces. In other words, the president has the power to control the Army, Navy, including the Militia of several states when called into service.
A court-martial is a judicial court set up to try and arraign officers accused of committing offenses against military laws. So, can the U.S. president face court martial as the armed forces commander? Here is all you need to know about this subject.
Can The President Be Court Martialed?
The president cannot be court martialed. That is the straightforward answer. Why? Only military personnel enlisted or drafted into the army can be court martialed.
The president is a civilian, even though he or she is the armed forces commander-in-chief. The president hasn’t been enlisted, inducted, or drafted into the military. Therefore, he or she cannot be court martialed.
A Handy Tip: The military court cannot try a sitting president even though he or she has committed a crime. Only Congress has the Constitutional power to impeach a sitting president.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution clarifies that the president shall be impeached for bribery, treason, misdemeanor, and other higher crimes. The same thing can happen to the vice president or other civil officers.
What Is A Court Martial?
The military tries military officers when they commit crimes. However, they are tried in a military court.
A court-martial or court-martial is a military court vested with the power to try and punish members of the armed forces found guilty according to military laws.
The military officers suspected to have committed crimes aren’t tried by judges but by military officers like themselves. But this time, they are high-ranking officers. When found guilty, officers are then punished according to military laws.
Three types of court-martial exist. These include a summary, a special and general court-martial. We’ll explain all three shortly.
The Different Types of Court Martial
We mentioned the three types of court-martial earlier. These include the summary court-martial, special court-martial, and general court-martial.
Here is what each court martial entails.
Summary Court Martial:
The summary court-martial features a commissioned officer that serves as the judge and the jury. Such military courts can try enlisted military officers accused of minor crimes.
In a summary court-martial, the accused military officer can call witnesses, cross-examine the witness, produce evidence, testify, or remain quiet throughout the process.
Accused military officers must consent to face trial in the summary court. In addition, an officer’s maximum punishment in a summary court-martial is less than in a special or general court-martial.
A Handy Tip: Summary court-martial is for minor crimes. It cannot result in discharge from service. Punishment varies, though it is less than a special and general court-martial.
In a summary court-martial, punishments can range from a reduction to E-1, a reduced monthly wage to one-third, 30 days of confinement, and 45 days of unconfined hard labor.
In addition, note that summary court-martial doesn’t involve a judge. A commissioned officer or summary court officer oversees the case’s evidence and passes judgment.
The special court-martial handles more serious cases than the summary court-martial. It is the intermediate court-martial level.
Two types of special court-martial exist. The first type of special court-martial features a military judge, defense counsel, trial counsel (prosecutor), and, should the accused military officer elect. This four-member panel is the jury.
Here is one thing you need to know about this type of special court-martial. The accused military officer has the opportunity to elect to be tried alone. In this case, he or she will be tried by the military judge alone, with no panel.
The second type of special court-martial is different from the first. Here, the convening authority can order that only the military judge should conduct the trial. The judge must try the accused officer to determine if they’re guilty and sentence the accused.
Despite the nature of the crime, any sentence pronounced by a special court-martial where the accused military officer has the freedom of having a panel has a limit of not more than 12 months confinement. But if the offenses committed boast a lower minimum, the time in confinement will reduce.
Other forms of punishment include bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank, and other much-reduced punishments.
What type of sentence does the special court, with no panel and only one military judge give? Confinement usually doesn’t exceed six months. If the offenses boast a lower maximum, the accused officer will spend less time in confinement.
Other punishment this type of court gives includes a reduction in the officer’s rank for an enlisted accused and forfeiture of salary for six months.
The sentences in a special court-martial are harsher than in a summary court-martial. In addition to reducing rank to E-1, hard labor, confinement, and forfeiture of pay, an accused military officer can be dismissed from the service.
Note that if there is a panel, a unanimous decision isn’t necessary to decide a case. But two-thirds of the panel must agree on the judgment.
General Court Martial:
The general court-martial is where every military officer wouldn’t want their case to be. This is where the sentences get serious.
A general court-martial is the most serious level of court-martial. In addition to a military judge, you’ll find defense counsel, trial counsel, and over six other court members. In most cases, the court members may be up to eight.
Unless the case involves one in which a death sentence could be adjudged, the officer or enlisted accused can request a trial by only the judge. The maximum and minimum sentence for a general court-martial is established under the Manual for Court Martial.
The punishment may include the following:
- Dismissal for officers
- A bad conduct or dishonorably discharged
- Death (for specific offenses)
- Reduction of rank for enlisted personnel
- Other fewer crimes compared to the ones mentioned before.
A preliminary hearing is always before cases are moved to the general court-martial. However, the accused military officer has the right to waive it.
Decisions You Need To Make When Facing Court Martial
You have four choices or decisions to make when facing a court martial. Let’s discuss each of them.
1: Choosing an attorney:
Are you being court-martialed? If yes, you have the right to a uniformed attorney. The military will provide one for you free of charge.
You also have the freedom to accept the attorney offered by the military or get a civilian attorney. Note also that you have the right to choose both.
Choose an attorney you feel comfortable with. It should be someone with military court martial experience.
A Handy Tip: The free uniformed military attorney the military provides is better than an inexperienced civil attorney. Have this in mind.
2: Pleading guilty or not guilty:
Court martial is similar to regular court proceedings, where the accused can plead guilty or not guilty. Considering the evidence available, your attorney will advise you on the best option. But the decision is yours to make.
Usually, if you feel you didn’t commit the crime, you can plead not guilty. However, there are cases where pleading guilty could be the best option.
3: Right to remain silent:
An accused military officer can remain silent or speak before the trial commences. Unfortunately, speaking before the trial can jeopardize a case. You might say things you’re not supposed to say.
So the best option is to remain silent and wait for the trial to commence. During the trial, you’ll be allowed to speak or remain silent while the government finds out if you’re guilty.
If you need to take the stand, your attorney will prepare you for this.
4: Right to decide how you want the court composed:
As the accused, you can decide how you want the court composed. In other words, you can exclusively choose military officers in a panel or a judge.
So, can the president be court martialed? The president cannot be court martialed. That is the straightforward answer. Only military officers enlisted into service can be court martialed.
The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He controls the army, navy, including Militia from several states when called upon. But they cannot be court martialed.
The president can be impeached, though, but not by the military. Only Congress can impeach the president, depending on the offense committed. Impeachable offenses include treason, bribery, misdemeanor, and other higher crimes.