Written by attorney Duane A. Kees

Summary Court Martial Fact Sheet


This fact is designed to supplement the advice given to you by your military defense counsel and is not intended to be used as or relied upon for personal legal advice without additional consultation with a military defense counsel. Please read this sheet prior to your meeting with counsel and prepare any questions you have accordingly. ENSURE that you annotate and ask any and all questions you may have concerning your case. If you need to, write the questions down and ask the defense counsel when you meet with them personally.

A Summary Court-Martial is the lowest level of trail by court-martial. The commanders who are authorized to convene Summary Courts are mostly O-5 and O-6 level commanders. If your charges are referred to a Summary Court, you have the option of accepting the Summary Court or turning it down. Normally, if the Summary Court is turned down, the charges will be referred to a Special Court-Martial. If the charges are referred to a Special Court-Martial, you can not turn it down.

There are significant differences between a Summary and a Special Court-Martial. The major difference is that a Summary court conviction is a low level federal conviction; some people do not even consider it to be a federal conviction. On the other hand, a Special Court-Martial is clearly a federal conviction. Another major difference in these two types of court-martial is the punishment. The punishment that you could receive under a Special Court-Martial is much more severe than that under a Summary Court-Martial.



Confinement and hard labor 1 Month* 6 Months

Hard Labor without Confinement 45 days** 3 Months

Restriction 2 Months 2 Months

Forfeiture 2/3 of 1 month pay for 1 month 2/3 of 1 month pay

for 6 months

Reduction (E1-E4) To the grade of E-1 To the grade of E-1

Reduction (E5-E6) One grade To the grade of E-1

*E-5 and above cannot be given confinement and hard labor at Summary Court.

**E-5 and above cannot be given hard labor without confinement at Summary Court.

At Summary court, you will be given the opportunity to consult with a Defense Counsel; however, the counsel WILL NOT be allowed to represent you at trial. You may hire a civilian attorney, at no cost to the government, who may represent you in the hearing. You may request person(s) to speak on your behalf at the hearing.

Your case will be heard by a Summary Court Officer, who is appointed on orders. This Officer is not usually an attorney. A prosecuting attorney is not normally present at a Summary Court.

The rules of evidence apply at a Summary court. The Summary Court Officer will call any Government witnesses and receive into evidence any document or other evidence. You may ask questions of any of the witnesses as well as view any evidence against you, but of course your questions are subject to objection, just as any questions by an attorney at trial. At the conclusion of the Government’s case, you may call your witnesses and present any other evidence for consideration.

If you are found guilty of one or more of the charges, the Summary Court Officer then has to adjudge an appropriate sentence. Again, you present evidence, to include calling witnesses, to show cause as to the type and amount of punishment you feel is warranted in your case. If there are facts that you feel he should know of concerning the charges or if there are other facts which may cause him to be more lenient in his sentencing, then you should bring these matters to light for his consideration. You may call character witnesses to testify on your behalf. If your duty performance has been good and you are considered a good service member, then you should bring forward NCOs and Officers, especially your chain of command, to testify that you are a good soldier. It is advisable to interview these witnesses prior to calling them to insure they will be willing to testify to that effect (as well, interview your witnesses that you intend to call on your behalf at trial). It is very helpful if your character witnesses testify that you should not receive confinement, and that they would be willing to serve with you in combat, should you be called to serve in combat. If they feel that you are in fact guilty, or that you have done something wrong, it is usually helpful on sentencing that they say that to the Summary Officer.

If you receive confinement at hard labor, you may submit a petition of deferment to the Convening Authority, asking that you not be placed in confinement for a period of time to allow you to take care of personal affairs. If you submit a petition, put it in writing. Also, if you feel the punishment is too harsh, you may submit a written petition for clemency, asking that your punishment not be as harsh. A military defense counsel can assist you in this matter, if you wish.

You may appeal your Summary Court-Martial conviction if you feel that a substantial error was made. Your military defense counsel can assist you in the preparation of the proper documentation for submitting your appeal. There is no automatic appeal of a Summary court-Martial conviction, so remember, if you want to appeal your conviction you must submit the request for appeal.

AGAIN, remember that this fact sheet is NOT intended to take the place of a personal military defense counsel. It is a basic guideline for Summary Court-Martial. Ask any questions you have to your military defense counsel who will give you personal legal advice on your case. The only dumb question is the question that is not asked.

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