The President is not above the law, but it remains to be seen if the law can bring him before a military court. As Commander in Chief, the President holds a powerful title and responsibility.
However, several laws allow the President to be removed from office or even face criminal charges.
Several offenses can result in a court-martial, all being severe crimes. This article will discuss the most common offenses that can result in a court-martial and explain what happens when you’re found guilty.
Can The President Be Court Martialed?
The President being a civilian, is not a military member and cannot be subjected to court-martial. However, despite this specific protection, the President can be suspended from their position by Congress after impeachment proceedings.
The Basics Of The Military Justice
Military justice is a complex system of law that puts a premium on discipline and order. Military courts are the judicial bodies that determine whether or not crimes have any service member has committed a crime in the military.
The military justice system aims to punish and rehabilitate service members who violate the Military Justice Code, which contains the rules and regulations governing military members’ conduct.
Congress created it to govern all those subject to military legislation, including enlisted servicemembers and commissioned officers.
Court-martial offenses are different than civilian crimes. You can be charged with an offense in the military even if you don’t physically harm anyone or their property isn’t damaged.
That’s why it’s essential for every military member to know the UCMJ and understand their responsibilities as a soldier.
Like the civilian system, the military justice system is divided into two major phases: investigation and prosecution.
Military authorities may investigate a person accused of committing a crime under the Uniform Code.
If it is determined that they committed a violation, the court may prosecute an individual in a court-martial.
The UCMJ applies to all the participants of the armed forces. However, if an individual member is convicted of a crime under the UCMJ, they may appeal to the appropriate civilian court for relief.
The Military Justice System exists to ensure the integrity of the armed forces. It provides an independent and impartial means for addressing offenses committed by service officers of the armed forces.
The system ensures that the military can maintain its readiness and mission while still providing appropriate discipline and justice to its personnel.
The UCMJ governs all federal military personnel, including officers and enlisted personnel. In certain circumstances, other individuals may also be subject to the UCMJ.
The UCMJ provides different levels of offenses with different punishments depending on the severity of the crime committed.
The military members are subject to both military law and civilian law. This dual system provides those in uniform with a system that they can trust and rely on while maintaining their constitutional rights as citizens.
What Is A Court Martial?
A court-martial is an administrative proceeding governed by the UCMJ, and a commander or other person in authority establishes it.
This is a proceeding similar to a civil trial in which the military decides the decree of guilt or innocence of one or more service members concerning an alleged offense. In some countries, a court-martial is the highest court for criminal offenses.
Enlisted personnel is tried by a panel composed of enlisted members, while officers are tried before a panel of commissioned officers.
When a court-martial is in session, the presiding officer decides which charges will be heard, who will serve on the panel, and whether the accused should appoint an attorney to represent them.
It is distinguished from a civil court because its authority and procedures are set down in military law rather than being inherited from the system of law with which civilians are generally familiar.
So, is the President subject to a court-martial? Although there is no law explicitly stating that either the President or vice president is not subject to court-martial, a 1945 opinion ruled that they were exempt from such proceedings.
What Are Offenses That Can Result In Being Court Martialed?
A court-martial is the military court’s highest level and is presided over by a military judge. These courts are used to try any armed forces member charged with a crime resulting in imprisonment for more than one year.
The offenses vary between countries and services but typically include such things as9although this is not an exhaustive list);
- Violent crimes
- Drug trafficking or smuggling
- Mutiny, conspiracy, or treason
- Desertion or AWOL
- Rape and sexual assault (including child sexual abuse)
- Robbery and theft
- Assaulting or willfully disobeying superior officers
- Disrespectful behavior toward warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, or petty officers
- Refusal to obey any of the above officers’ orders
The maximum repercussions possible are;
- Dishonorable discharge from the army
- Confinement for life
Most of these offenses are felonies under the UCMJ, but certain exceptions exist. For example, murder is a felony resulting in a dishonorable discharge and prison time.
Trial Of A President
One of the strange things about our nation is that we have a commander-in-chief who has authority over the greatest military in the world. If they were some other type of worker, that officer would be fired for their poor performance.
We don’t fire our President, though. The courts had made it clear that the President is immune from prosecution while in office, even when committing crimes before winning the election.
So how do we deal with a president who commits crimes? How do we remove them from the office? The answer is impeachment.
This leads us to the next question, what happens if the President is found guilty? What would be his punishment? Of course, the law can’t punish the President as it would an average citizen. He gets impeached instead.
Impeachment is a way for citizens to hold their leaders accountable for their actions. In other words, impeachment is an official statement that the President has broken some rules or laws of office and must remove him from power.
When the President gets accused of committing a crime, it’s not easy to know what to do next.
The President can’t be put on trial by the regular justice system, but a constitutional process can remove the President from office.
The process starts with Congress looking into the charges against the President. If they find that there are grounds for impeachment, then they have to vote on it.
Two-thirds of members of Congress have to vote in favor of impeachment on the first try; if they fail, then it goes back to square one.
While the President cannot be court-martialed, he can be impeached for many reasons. This is a powerful tool that Congress has available to them and should use with caution.
Impeachment is not something to lightly take since it is so powerful. It’s also worth mentioning that impeachment proceedings are entirely separate from criminal charges brought against the President through the courts.