A general court-martial (GCM) is the highest level of military trial courts. A GCM is comprised of a military judge, prosecutor (trial counsel), defense counsel (including a civilian defense counsel), and at least five court members. Enlisted defendant’s may elect a court composed of at least one-third enlisted personnel. An officer or enlisted accused may also request trial by judge alone unless the charge is one where the death sentence could be awarded.
In a GCM, the maximum punishment is established for each offense under the Manual for Courts-Martial, and may include death (for certain offenses), confinement, a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge for enlisted personnel, a dismissal for officers, or a number of other lesser forms of punishment such as a fine or a reduction in rank.
Before the case goes to trial, a probable cause hearing must be conducted. This hearing is commonly referred to as the pretrial investigation under Article 32, UCMJ. It must be conducted before a case may be referred to a GCM, unless waived by the accused. The Article 32 Investigation is the military equivalent of the preliminary hearing and the burden of proof is lower than that of the actual trial. The government must show by a preponderance of the evidence at the Article 32, that a crime was committed. A GCM is reserved for the most serious felony level offenses. Given the serious nature of the charges and the high risk associated with a conviction, it is critically important to have the best legal team possible in your corner.