Contact Us

Pleading Guilty In A Court-Martial

Pleading guilty in a military court is different than pleading guilty in a civilian court. This blog will explain when an accused may plead guilty in a court-martial. A court-martial is a military hearing for criminal charges brought against a member of the armed forces, and what procedures need to be followed in order for the plea to accepted.

You can only plead guilty if you are guilty.

In civilian criminal trials, there are numerous plea options available to defendants besides the traditional “guilty” or “not guilty” pleas, such as an Alford plea. With an Alford plea, the defendant denies that he committed the crime, but nonetheless pleads guilty because the prosecution has evidence to support a conviction. Thus, a defendant that moves forward with an Alford plea is essentially pleading guilty even though he claims that he did not commit the crime.

Alford pleas are not permissible in courts-martial. In order to plead guilty in a court-martial, the accused must actually be guilty of the offense that he is accused of committing. In a court-martial, the accused cannot be innocent but plead guilty in order to obtain a more favorable sentencing outcome. However, pre-trial agreements are often available in courts-martial. During a pre-trail agreement, the prosecution and the accused agree that if the accused pleads guilty, he will receive a particular sentence or only certain charges will be pursued. However, even with pre-trial agreements, the accused must have committed the crime or offense in order to plead guilty in a court-martial.

The court’s acceptance of the guilty plea

A military court will only accept a guilty plea if the facts indicate that the accused did commit the offense in question. During a court-martial, the accused, while under oath, will be questioned by a military judge about his actions and why he is guilty.

The United States Court of Military Appeals explained the requirements for questioning an accused that pleads guilty in United States v. Care. (18 U.S.C.M.A. 535; 1969). There, the Court emphasized the need for “court-martial records [to] reflect fully an awareness by an accused pleading guilty of what he is admitting that he did and intended and of the law that applies to his acts and intentions.” Id. at 541.

Furthermore, the Court explained that in courts-martial, the records must show that the judge: 1) explained the elements of each charge to the accused; 2) “questioned the accused about what he did or did not do”; 3) questioned the accused about what he intended to do; 4) “personally addressed the accused”; and 5) “advised him that his plea waives his right against self-incrimination, his right to a trial of the facts by a court-martial, and his right to be confronted by the witnesses against him; and that he waives such rights by his plea.” Id.

Thus, an accused that pleads guilty in a court-martial will undergo a thorough inquiry by the judge to ensure that the accused is voluntarily pleading guilty, that he is indeed guilty of the crime he is being accused of, and that he understands the implications of pleading guilty.

Patriots Law Group has extensive experience and success trying courts-martial. The attorneys at Patriots Law Group can help you understand the procedures involved in courts-martial and develop the best litigation strategy and defense for your case.

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information and may not be relied upon based on the above-statements.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a consultation is necessary before any advice can be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for your situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice concerning your situation.