Appealing Your UCMJ Case? Know the Rules

On behalf of Law Offices of David P. Sheldon posted in UCMJ on Thursday, June 23, 2016.

Like in the civilian criminal justice system, there is an appeals process for contesting most court-martial convictions. Like in a court-martial, a servicemember appealing a court-martial conviction will be appointed a military lawyer but may also hire a civilian defense lawyer.

This blog post will provide a broad overview of the appeals process under the UCMJ.

Trial Review

In military court, the trial is reviewed in several ways depending mostly on the severity of the sentence imposed.

The first step after a conviction is clemency. Specifically, the convicted servicemember may submit clemency matters to the commanding general. Note, though, that Congress recently reduced the extent to which a commanding general may grant clemency. Following clemency comes the appeals process.

The Appeals Process

After clemency, a servicemember convicted in a court-martial may turn to his or her branch's appellate court (for example, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals or ACCA). Those courts review convictions for legal and factual sufficiency as well as various other errors that may have prejudiced the case. If a servicemember does not get full relief from that court, he or she may then appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF).

Unlike each service's appellate court, CAAF does not automatically review appeals. Instead, that court chooses whether or not to review a particular case. An appellant must convince the court that there is good reason for it to do so. If the court agrees, it will then allow the appellant to submit a full appeal, after which the government will file a response. Each service's appellate court as well as CAAF have significant power in reviewing a case and, among other things, can dismiss charges or order a rehearing.

If still unsatisfied with the results after appealing to CAAF, a servicemember may, depending on the case, be able to file appeal to the Supreme Court. Of course, the Supreme Court receives many petitions and only grants a small number for review.

Other forms of clemency

Aside from appealing for clemency from the commanding general, a service member may be able to file for clemency in other ways as well, including from his or her confinement facility if confined. Further, depending on the facts of a specific case, seeking a pardon or relief from the Board for Corrections of Military Records may also be an avenue worth pursuing.

Each Appeals Case Is Different

The entire appellate process can be long and complex and varies from case to case. If you want to fight a court-martial conviction, attorneys at the Law Offices of David P. Sheldon, PLLC, have significant experience doing so and will gladly consult you on your case.