A military PTA consists of two basics Parts: Part I sets out the agreement on what charges the accused will plead guilty to, and other conditions. Part II sets out the sentence cap. The separation of the two parts is very important because of how a military PTA is used at trial. The military judge knows there's a PTA, but he does not know what is contained in Part II until after he announces the sentence he will give.
(Note: The military has a unitary sentence -- that is, one potential maximum for all of the offenses joined together. The military does not adjudge a range of confinement, such as 10 to 15 years, as many civilian courts do.)
How is the PTA used
Once an agreement is reached the accused appears in court. At that time the accused enters pleas in accordance with the PTA. Once that is done there are two primary steps the military judge has to take before accepting pleas of guilt: ensure a voluntary waiver of constitutional rights, and that the plea is "provident."
Waiver of Rights
In order for a person to validly plead guilty in court-martial the accused must knowingly and voluntarily waive the right to silence, a trial of the facts, and the requirement for guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. The military judge will tell an accused that a guilty plea is considered the strongest form of proof. Assuming the accused properly waives the rights the military judge goes to the next stage which is to examine the providency of the plea.
Under military law the military judge has to conduct a discussion with an accused who is pleading guilty to determine the voluntariness of the plea, that there is a factual basis for the plea, and that the accused is willingly admitting he did all of the facts alleged.
The accused is placed under oath.
The military judge informs the accused of the legal elements of the crime the prosecution would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
The military judge then engages in a question and answer session with the accused to get the facts from the accused as to why he is guilty of the offenses charged.
The plea is accepted
Assuming the accused gets through the providence inquiry and the military judge accepts the plea of guilty -- now what.
The next step is the sentencing hearing. At this hearing the prosecution presents potential aggravating evidence and the accused can present evidence in extenuation and mitigation and as to rehabilitative potential.
The military judge then decides on the sentence and announces that in open court.
AND HERE is the essential difference not found in any other U. S. judicial system. You recollect there are two parts to the agreement. The second part contains the sentence limits. Remember the military judge DOES NOT KNOW what that part says.
Only after the judge announces the sentence does he then look at Part II of the PTA.
What's the sentence
Only after the judge announces the sentence does he then look at Part II of the PTA. At that point the accused gets the lesser of the two. So, some examples.
1. Judge announces five years confinement. The PTA sentence cap limits confinement to six years. The sentence is five years.
2. Judge announces five years confinement. The PTA sentence cap limits confinement to four years. The sentence is four years. The one year is suspended usually for a period of one year.