MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- When people hear the words military justice, courtroom scenes from the movie “A Few Good Men” may come to mind. From the strenuous objection of Lt. Cmdr. Jo Ann Galloway, to the rigorous cross-examination of Col. Nathan Jessup, the movie provides many Marines with an expectation of how the military justice system functions. However, while the Marines at the military justice section do work in the courtroom, that work is only one aspect of their job.
“We are responsible for a lot more than just prosecuting,” said Cpl. Jose Fabre, an administration law noncommissioned officer, Military Justice Office, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. “We are also responsible for the whole administration process prior to the trial.”
The process of prosecution, from the receipt of allegations to the execution of a court-martial sentence, is a long and arduous one, said Staff Sgt. Keith Beal, military justice office chief H&HS. Unlike in the civilian criminal justice system, a Marine’s commanding officer, not the prosecuting attorney, decides whether a Marine should face a criminal trial.
Once the charges are written up in a process called preferral, the commanding officer decides whether to convene a court-martial against the accused in a process called referral. Once the commanding officer refers the charges to a court-martial, an arraignment before a military judge occurs.
“The arraignment is so the accused can see the judge and hear the charges filed against him,” said Beal a Valdosta, Ga., native.
Once the accused hears the charges brought against him, he or she then decides whether they want to be tried by a court-martial composed of members, a court-martial composed of members with one third enlisted representation, or by a military judge alone, said Beal.
It is also the duty of the legal specialists to coordinate dates for the trial, acquire graphics or visual aids for the trial, properly prepare the courtroom, and ensure the accused in pre-trial confinement has a proper uniform for the court date.
“It’s also our job to make sure all the witnesses, for the prosecution and the defense, know they have to be here and also to make sure they get here for the trial,” said Beal. “We get the witnesses orders to allow them to be here and secure transportation for them.”
Throughout the process, it is also the job of the military justice section to remain in contact with the accused’s unit.
“We keep the unit updated as to how their Marine or sailor is doing,” said Fabre, a Miami native. “We also tell the unit if we need chasers.”
A chaser is a member of the accused Marine’s unit who escorts the accused to and from confinement, said Beal.
The traditions of the Corps are not only upheld in the military courts the law office serves, but they can also be seen in the professional, proficient manner the office attacks a mission.
“It’s a court, but we are still Marines,” said Beal. “We do our job in the most proficient way possible.”
Despite what Hollywood may suggest about the day-to-day labors of those working in the military justice system, the real truth is, it isn’t just intense courtroom battles to get a colonel to admit that he ordered the ‘code-red.’ In reality, the truth involves a small, but dedicated cadre of Marines who work quietly and diligently to ensure that a service member’s rights are protected and that justice is served.