Presumption of Innocence in the Military

Presumption of Innocence in the Military

September 25, 2019

Presumption of Innocence in the Military

It is almost universally known that anyone facing a trial in the civilian world is innocent until proven guilty. However, many people, and military members, seem to think that the same presumption of innocence does not apply at Courts-Martial. I even heard a Marine Captain tell me the other day that he didn’t think military members were presumed innocent until proven guilty like in the civilian world. This is an alarming misconception.

Courts-Martial are federal trials. If convicted, a Servicemember will have a federal conviction and faces jail time, along with other serious punishment. Therefore, Servicemembers ARE presumed innocent until proven guilty. If this weren’t the case, convictions would not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

It isn't just at Courts-Martial that Servicemembers are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  This presumption applies at lower level proceedings as well, such as Administrative Separation Boards, Article 15s, etc.  The burden to prove a military member's guilty always rests with the Government and a Servicemember is never presumed guilty until he/she establishes their innocence.

A perception that there is no presumption of innocence  is very, very dangerous to those facing any sort of punitive action. This perception also highlights the need for a Servicemember to be represented by an experienced and respected attorney who can break down misconceptions that may exist about a Servicemember’s rights.

There are, of course, other dangers in the Military Justice system.  For example, read Attorney Barry's Article about the Unfairness of Military Sexual Assault Trials.

This Article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry

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