The verdict is in

By Staff Sgt. Chad Warren 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Throughout history, military members have been held to a high standard of good order and discipline. This is made possible in part by the legal system in place that ensures service members uphold these standards.

From the outside, the military court system can seem intimidating due to its complexity. However, aside from a few key differences it is largely similar to the civilian realm.
Among these differences is the jury selection process.

"Generally speaking, civilian criminal courts randomly select potential jurors and try to ensure the jury pool represents a cross section of the community," said Maj. Peter Anderson, 2nd Bomb Wing Chief of Military Justice. "In our military justice system, members are selected for court duty based on criteria outlined in Article 25 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which requires those 'best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, length of service, and judicial temperament.'"

Each quarter, units must submit names of potential jurors, called "court members" in the military system, to the legal office. How many required depends on the size of the unit and the ratio of officer to enlisted members within that unit. From there, the legal office compiles a list of potential members.

"A court-martial is convened by a senior-ranking commander called the 'Convening Authority'," said Anderson. "Once a case is going to trial, the legal office submits a list of potential court members, along with their questionnaires, to the convening authority for review and consideration."

The convening authority is not bound by this list however, and may appoint additional members who meet the criteria of Article 25 of the UCMJ, he added.

Article 25 of the UCMJ outlines the qualifications for serving as a member on courts-martial.

"Courts-martial members are typically officers," said Anderson. "If enlisted however, the defendant, called the 'Accused' in a court-martial, is entitled to request that no less than 1/3 of the court be comprised of enlisted members senior in rank to him."

From this point, the process is fairly similar to that of a civilian court. As in a civilian criminal jury trial, the judge, prosecution and defense in a court-martial may question potential court members. This process, called voir dire, is used as an effort to ensure court members are qualified and able to decide a case fairly.

According to Anderson, the UCMJ classifies courts-martial into three kinds: General, Special and Summary. The kind of court convened in a particular case depends in part on the seriousness of the charges. The number of required court members varies, dictated by the level of the court-martial.

Although many view jury duty as an unwelcome burden, all military members share the responsibility of serving as a member of court-martial if selected. This age-old tradition helps maintain the good order and discipline of the U.S. military.