Legal Resources

Military Appellate Court Review

Automatic Review and The Article 69 Process. If there is an approved sentence which includes a sentence of death, a punitive discharge (Dishonorable Discharge or Bad Conduct Discharge for enlisted personnel; Dismissal for officers), or confinement for one year or more, the Courts of Criminal Appeals of the accused’s branch of service will automatically review the case. The accused can waive this automatic review in all cases, except death penalty cases. An accused who waives his appellate rights will still have his case reviewed, pursuant to Article 69 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, by the service Judge Advocate General for legal errors and possible referral to the appellate courts.

Military Courts of Criminal Appeals Review By the Court of Criminal Appeals. Each military service has established a Court of Criminal Appeals which is composed of one or more panels, and each panel has not less than three appellate military judges. For the purpose of reviewing court-martial cases, the court may sit in panels or as a whole. The court, sitting as a whole, may reconsider any decision of a panel. Appellate military judges who are assigned to a Court of Criminal Appeals may be commissioned officers or civilians, each of whom must be a licensed attorney. The Judge Advocate General of each Service designates one of the appellate military judges of that Service’s Court of Criminal Appeals as chief judge. The chief judge assigns the appellate judges to the various court panels and determines which military judge will serve as the senior judge on each panel.

The Court of Criminal Appeals can correct any legal error it finds, and it can reduce what it considers to be an excessive sentence. Under Article 66(c), UCMJ, the Court may only affirm findings of guilty and the sentence or such parts of the sentence that it finds correct in law and fact. In considering the record, the Court may weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, and determine disputed questions of fact, recognizing that the trial court saw and heard the witnesses. Most civilian appellate courts can only consider issues of law, not questions of fact. They are bound by the findings of fact made by the civilian trial court. The power of the Court of Criminal Appeals to also consider questions of fact is a unique and important right afforded an accused under the UCMJ. Of course, similar to civilian appellate courts, the Court of Criminal Appeals cannot change a finding of “not guilty” to a finding of “guilty,” nor can it increase the severity of the sentence approved by the court-martial convening authority.

Jurisdiction of the Courts of Criminal Appeals. Each Court of Criminal Appeals has jurisdiction to review courts-martial in which the sentence, as approved: extends to death; dismissal of a commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman; dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge of enlisted personnel; or confinement for one year or more. These courts may also review cases referred to the Court by the Service’s Judge Advocate General. In addition, the Courts may, in their discretion, entertain petitions for extraordinary relief including, but not limited to, writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, and prohibition. Except in a death penalty case, the right to appellate review may be waived by the accused.

United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Five civilian judges, appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, comprise the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) and serve for a term of 15 years. CAAF is responsible for overseeing the military justice system. In all but death penalty cases, which it reviews automatically, and cases certified by the Judge Advocate General, CAAF chooses upon petitions for review which cases it will consider, similar to Federal courts of appeal.

United States Supreme Court. Military members convicted of crimes may petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of their case. Decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces are subject to review by the Supreme Court by writ of certiorari. However, the Supreme Court may not review a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces which had refused to grant a petition for review. The military accused has a right, without cost, to the services of a military appellate defense counsel at all appellate review levels, including review by the Supreme Court. The military accused may petition the U. S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari without prepayment of fees and costs.

Additional Military Legal Resources

Our goal is to provide a comprehensive set of military legal resources; however, no online guide can replace the services of an experienced military lawyer. For specific questions regarding military law, we strongly urge you to contact military lawyer Stephen Karns or another experienced military lawyer.


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