MILITARY COURTS, commonly called "courts-martial," are courts established for the maintenance of discipline and the administration of justice in the mili tary and naval forces. In the United States such courts derive their authority from those provisions of the Constitu tion which, first, designate the Presi dent as "Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States," and, second, empower Congress to "raise and support armies," to "provide and maintain a navy" and to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." Military law, by which courts-martial are governed, draws its provisions from several sources, of which the following are the most important: 1. The statutory codes established by legislative enactment.
The code governing the army is known as "The Artidles of War." That govern ing the navy is entitled "An Act for the Government of the Navy." Both of these codes are based upon an English code of very early origin but with many modifications, all in the direction of re duced severity.
2. Other laws passed by Congress from time to time, dealing with new questions growing out of changed conditions.
3. The "Army Regulations" and "Navy Regulations" issued by the Secretaries of War and the Navy under the authority of the President.
4. Such "General and Special Orders" as are issued from time to time by the Secretaries of War and the Navy.
5. The "Customs of the Service" as these have been developed through a long series of years, including the code of ethics recognized as defining conduct becoming "an officer and a gentleman." Courts-martial are of several kinds with varying degrees of jurisdiction and varying degrees of power as to the sentences which they may award.
The highest of these is the General Court-martial, which deals with all offenses charged against commissioned officers and with serious charges against enlisted men. For lesser offenses, en listed men are brought before a Summary Court, of comparatively limited authority. For dealing with cases still less serious, the army has the Regimental and Gar. rison Courts, and the navy the Deck Court.
A general court-martial must be com posed of not more than thirteen members, nor fewer than five. The senior officer
is president of the court, with wide dis cretionary powers as to procedure, but with only one vote as to the finding and sentence. Whenever practicable all offi cers of the court must be senior to the officer to be tried. An officer, usually selected for his knowledge of law, is appointed as prosecutor, with the title "Judge-Advocate." The person on trial may be represented by counsel and if he fails to avail himself of this privilege, the court usually appoints some officer to act in this capacity. In cases where for any reason no counsel is available, the regulations provide that the judge advocate shall assist the defendant (tech nically "the accused"), in any way pos sible. Even when a counsel is present, the court guards the rights of the accused as jealously as those of the government— the first aim of a court-martial being to arrive at the truth. While the rules of evidence recognized by courts-martial are practically identical with those of civil courts, the technicalities which so often clog the wheels of civil courts receive scant attention from courts-martial ex cept when they have a manifest bearing upon the case.
Under the law, general courts-martial are called into existence by an order from its President, the Secretary of War or Navy, or the commander-in-chief of a military or naval force. Officers of rank below a commander-in-chief may be vested also with this authority by special order of the President.
Courts-martial differ from civil courts, first, in the fact that their existence is temporary only, and, second, in that their findings and sentences have no validity until approved by the authority which convened the court. The cases sent to the court having been completed by the court and acted upon by the con vening authority the same authority dis solves the court, which thus passes out of existence. Every member of the court takes an oath to try the case be fore him according to the laws for the government of the army (navy), the evidence which shall be adduced, and his own conscience. Voting on the finding and sentence is by secret ballot.