A Pretrial Agreement

The Uniform Code of Military Justice guarantees a Soldier the right to a court martial by members, and protects against self-incrimination.  Despite these guarantees, the vast majority of court martial cases end in a plea of guilty, not trial by members.

Although a Solder has the right to plead not-guilty and require a court-martial panel or judge alone determine guilt or innocence, most decide to plead guilty to the original or reduced charges.  A Soldier will elect to plead guilty primarily because he or she has entered into a pretrial agreement.

A pretrial agreement (PTA) is an agreement between the convening authority and an accused.  A typical PTA includes the accused’s promises to plead guilty in exchange for the convening authority’s agreement to limit the sentence imposed at trial.  During a guilty plea process, a military judge will examine the agreement and ensure the accused understands it.

After the judge accepts the plea as providently made, the sentencing authority (the military judge or panel) will proceed to sentencing without knowledge of the sentence limitation the convening has agreed to.  This means that you will get the benefit of whichever sentence is less – either that contained within the PTA or that announced at trial.

Pretrial Agreement negotiations may be initiated by the accused, defense counsel, trial counsel, staff judge advocate, convening authority, or their duly authorized representatives.  Either the defense or the government may propose any term or condition for the PTA that is not prohibited by law or public policy.

If you decide to propose a PTA, your defense counsel must submit a written offer.  All terms, conditions, and promises must be in writing.  The convening authority may either accept or reject an offer made by you, or may propose by counteroffer separate terms or conditions.  When convening authority has accepted the PTA, the PTA will be signed by the convening authority and returned to you.

If you are thinking about entering into a PTA, it is very important that you have an effective advocate in the PTA process.  You should feel free to contact our office to discuss whether you should enter into a PTA, and if so, how we can help you get the best possible deal.

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