If you've ever seen A Few Good Men or the TV series JAG, then you've seen some pretty good military courtroom dramas. However, there is a piece of military justice that is rarely touched on by these entertainment icons: the appeals process.
The courthouse that houses the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. (Wikimedia Commons photo by MBisanz)
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is part of a system set up in the wake of World War II. According to the court's website, during that conflict, over 1.7 million courts-martial were held. In 1950, the court was initially was established as a three-judge panel called the Court of Military Appeals as part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In 1968, the court was renamed the United States Court of Military Appeals. Nearly two decades later, the court was expanded to five members and Congress also allowed the Supreme Court to accept appeals from this court. Finally, in 1994, the court received its current name, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Col. James Van Orsdol (right) helps Lt. Col. Lindsey Graham don a judge's robe in a courtroom after Graham was sworn in as a new judge for the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber K. Whittington)
The judges on this court are civilians and serve 15-year terms. Like normal appeals court judges, they are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. This is not the only appeals court in the military justice system. There are four other appeals courts set lower: The Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals. The primary function of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is to review decisions made by these lower appellate courts.
So, next time you see A Few Good Men, understand that what happened in the courtroom wouldn't be the last word on the matter — the appeals process is to follow. There are higher authorities in military justice that Hollywood can't quite comprehend.