The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) convened the first of four courts-martial at sea June 12. Courts-martial are not typically held on board a ship. Nimitz Command Judge Advocate Lt. Cmdr. Marc Brewen explained that it has been more than five years since the previous case was held.
“The court-martial is an important military justice forum used to dispose of serious offenses not appropriate for resolution at Captain’s Mast (non-judicial punishment),” said Brewen. “It provides an accused substantial due process rights and the ability to confront witnesses and evidence with the assistance of a military defense counsel.”
The accused Sailors, three airmen and one petty officer, are charged with violating various articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The charges include “theft of military property,” “assault consummated by a battery,” and two cases involving “possession of a controlled substance,” spice. “There are three levels of courts-martial, summary, special, and general,” explained Legalman 1st Class Michael Lightsey. “The four cases to be tried this week are all special courts-martial. A summary court-martial requires only one officer (can be a non-judge advocate) to serve as judge, prosecutor, and defense, and therefore this forum is reserved for minor cases. A general court-martial, on the other hand, is generally reserved for what would be considered felony offenses. A special court-martial is therefore often compared to a misdemeanor court in the civilian community. Regardless if it is a special or general court-martial forum, an accused will be represented by an attorney, and other judge advocates will serve as prosecutor and military judge.”
Senior Trial Counsel, Lt. Patrick Korody, from Region Legal Service Office Northwest (RLSO NW) will serve as the prosecutor while the Senior Defense Counsel, Lt. Michael Hanzel and second defense counsel, Lt. j.g. Eileen Joy, from Naval Legal Service Office Northwest (NLSO NW), are onboard to represent the four accused Sailors. The military judge, Cmdr. Lewis T. Booker, Jr., from the Western Judicial Circuit will preside over the four courts-martial. “
The military justice system is very robust,” said Brewen. “Behind these four courts-martial proceedings was a large production requiring the involvement of several departments and regional commands. The ship now literally possesses a floating federal courtroom. This would not have been possible without the tremendous support from Supply, Security, Combat Systems and Deck Departments. In addition to all the hard work from my Legalmen, officers from RLSO NW and NLSO NW and at the Western Judicial Circuit are embarked to make these courts-martial at sea possible.”
A special court-martial, the forum in which these four cases will be judged, exposes the accused to a possible maximum punishment not to exceed reduction in rate to E-1, one year of confinement, forfeiture of two-thirds pay for up to one year and a punitive discharge from the service. Not only will the trials be held on board the ship, but the courts-martial will also be made open to the ship’s crew throughout the week.
“The crew is encouraged to attend the proceedings,” said Brewen, “not to embarrass the accused Sailors, but because it is an opportunity for our Sailors to see their military justice system at work and to observe the many rights and protections afforded an accused Sailor.”
The defense counsel will be provided free-of-charge to the accused Sailors by NLSO NW during the proceedings.
“A court-martial ensures the accused have a fair trial and are not falsely accused,” said Brewen. “The defendants have every opportunity to meet with their counsel so they understand the rights provided to them by the UCMJ prior to their trial. It’s an example of the system at work.” The courts-martial concluded June 14.
For more information on courts-martial and Navy legal services visit: www.jag.navy.mil