DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
From the birth of the United States, military commanders have played a crucial role in administering military justice and this still holds true today as military courts-martial are held right here in the 436th Airlift Wing Legal Office's court room.
A court-martial is a trial conducted by the U.S. Military to determine the guilt of members in the armed forces that are subject to military law under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide the appropriate punishment.
Lt. Col. Scott Boehne, 436th Airlift Wing staff judge advocate, said courts-martial are handled very similarly to trials conducted in the civilian population.
"A court-martial is a criminal trial, just like a criminal trial in a civilian court," said Boehne. "In conducting the trial, there is no significant difference between the two. The same rules of evidence apply. The accused is entitled to a jury of his/her peers, to challenge members of the jury to ensure they are impartial, to the assistance of counsel throughout the trial and to be deemed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
The main difference is that in the military, commanders decide whether a case will be tried by court-martial as a means of maintaining good order and discipline within the command. Whereas on the civilian side, the local district attorney decides whether to prosecute a case at his/her discretion.
Courts-martial juries, referred to as panels, are comprised of military officers unless an enlisted accused request enlisted members be included on the panel. Each member of the panel will be senior to the accused and not from the same unit.
All trials that occur on Dover AFB, Delaware, are advertised in a monthly newsletter called "Keepin' it Legal" and are open to the public.
"These are public trials and anybody that wants to walk in and watch, can," said Boehne. "They take place right here in building 200."
The trials themselves can be very emotional to watch and typically members of the accused or victim's unit and family will come to show support of that member.
Boehne recommends that everyone attend at least one court-martial in their military career, especially commanders and first sergeants.
"Anyone who is involved in the discipline process should come view one," said Boehne. "Commanders prefer charges. If they are going to send someone through this process, it would be beneficial for them to come watch a court-martial so they can see exactly what they are going to put someone through."
However, it is not just commanders and first sergeants that can benefit from viewing a court-martial.
Senior Airman Savella Constancio, 436th AW general law paralegal, said it can greatly benefit younger Airmen to view what happens inside the courtroom.
"Not only are they given the opportunity to watch a very interesting display of analytical legal intellect and argument, but they are given the opportunity to learn," said Constancio. "Now for those younger Airman that aren't quite on the straight and narrow, it may just be the wakeup call they need."
If you would like to view upcoming courts-martial on your base, visit http://www.afjag.af.mil/docket/
and use the search tool to view upcoming dates and case details.