Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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COURT MARTIAL, a court consisting of military or naval officers, for the trial of offenses against military or naval laws.


—In this court there is no division of labor or responsibility, as the members of which it is composed constitute both judge and jury. When the court assembles for organization, the members are sworn by the judge advocate, and usually take their seats according to the official order designating them as members of the court. The court is usually open, but may sit with closed doors, if it be so determined by a majority vote. Sentence, also, is decided by a majority vote; but two-thirds of the entire number in a general court martial are necessary to pronounce sentence of death. The findings of a court martial must in each case be transmitted to the convening authority for approval and confirmation. A court martial has no jurisdiction over an offender not in the military or naval service.


—In Great Britain courts martial are of three kinds, to wit: general, district or garrison, and regimental. A general court martial is alone authorized by law to pronounce a sentence of death or transportation for life upon the offender. It is composed of 13 commissioned officers, when possible to obtain that number, one of whom is designated to act as president by the order convening the court. A deputy judge advocate is also assigned to the court, usually by the same order, to conduct the prosecution. He is at the same time the responsible adviser of the court, and in the absence of counsel for the defense, must insist upon all rights belonging to the accused under the law and the evidence.


—A district court martial may be convened by the officer commanding the district or corps, without first obtaining authority from the sovereign. Its number varies from three to seven, and the rank of its deputy judge advocate must be no lower than that of captain. This court is empowered to try warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and rank and file, on such charges as merit a secondary punishment.


—A regimental court martial is convened by order of the commanding officer of a regiment, consists of from three to seven members, and tries minor offenses, with minor punishments.


—A non-commissioned officer or private may be tried by any of the foregoing courts, but a commissioned officer must be tried by a general court martial.


—Naval courts martial consist of admirals, captains and commanders, and are appointed by the commander of the fleet or squadron. They are empowered to try all offenses against the articles of war, in the naval branch of the service. The findings of this court are final, irreversible, and subject to no act of confirmation or disapproval by higher authority.


—The armies of the United States, by act of congress, are governed by certain rules and laws, called articles of war.


—Article 72 (Revised Statutes, U. S.) provides that any general officer commanding the army of the United States, a separate army or a separate department, shall be competent to appoint a general court martial either in time of peace or war, except when he is the accuser or prosecutor of any officer under his command. In that case the president appoints the court, and its findings are sent directly to the secretary of war, who lays them before the president for his approval or disposition otherwise.


—In time of war the commander of a division or a separate brigade of troops can appoint a general court martial, except when he is the accuser or prosecutor of any person of his command. In that case the officer next above him in command appoints the court.


General courts martial in the United States may consist of any number of officers from 5 to 13; but 13 always, when that number can be convened without injury to the service. Every officer commanding a regiment or corps can appoint from his own regiment or corps, a court martial of three officers to try offenses not of a capital nature. A similar court can be convened by the commanding officer of a garrison or post when the troops consist of different corps. Regimental and garrison courts martial and field officers detailed to try offenders, can not try capital cases or commissioned officers, nor inflict a fine exceeding one month's pay, nor imprison or place at hard labor any non-commissioned officer or soldier for more than one month.


—No sentence of a court martial can be carried into effect until approved by the officer convening the court. In time of peace, no sentence of a court martial involving loss of life or the dismissal of a commissioned officer, and either in time of peace or war no sentence against a general officer, can be carried into effect without approval by the president of the United States.


—The jurisdiction of all courts martial extends only over offenses committed by those who are duly enlisted or appointed in the military or naval service of the United States. No sentence of death can be pronounced by any court martial except by the concurrence of two-thirds of its members; and no person in the military service under sentence of a court martial can be punished by confinement in a penitentiary, unless convicted of an offense by a United States statute or that of a state, territory or district in which the offense was committed, or by the common law, as the same exits in such state, territory or district.


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