Tech. Sgt. David Gutierrez will walk into a courtroom Tuesday at McConnell Air Force Base that looks like most others in the judicial system.
There's a bench. A place for people to watch. An American flag.
But this courtroom is different.
It's a military courtroom, and it's where Gutierrez's future in the Air Force will be determined.
Gutierrez faces 11 counts of aggravated assault, accused of having unprotected sex without disclosing to partners his HIV-positive status. He also is accused of violating an order to tell partners about his disease and to practice safe sex; committing indecent acts on multiple occasions; adultery; and obstructing justice.
Lt. Col. Tom Herthel, staff judge advocate at McConnell, and Capt. Jeff Coleman, chief of military justice and an assistant judge advocate at the base, met recently with reporters to talk about how military justice works.
Herthel said the purpose of military law is to promote justice and maintain good order and discipline.
Gutierrez will appear in court Tuesday for an Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to refer the case to a court-martial.
"It's the military's equivalent of a grand jury," Herthel explained.
Two prosecutors and two defense lawyers will appear at the hearing.
Gutierrez, whose lawyers have not commented on the case, will hear the charges against him and will have the right to be informed of evidence and witnesses in the case. He also will have the opportunity to make a statement.
Gutierrez has been confined at the base since Aug. 9.
The investigating officer will evaluate evidence and testimony and make a recommendation about whether to proceed with a court-martial, or trial.
There are three types of court-martial:
* Summary, which is the least severe, and used in cases of minor offenses.
* Special court-martial, which is more severe and used in misdemeanor-type cases.
* General court-martial, the most severe and used in felony-type cases. Gutierrez would face this type of court-martial if the investigating officer recommends a court-martial after the hearing this week.
The proceedings are similar to a civilian criminal trial. A defendant can plead guilty or not guilty and can have his or her case tried by a military judge or by court members who are similar to a jury.
Court members are not randomly selected but chosen based on who is best qualified "by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service and judicial temperament."
Serving on the jury becomes their job during the case. They vote on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty by secret ballot. It's secret, Herthel and Coleman explained, so that no one is influenced by someone with a higher rank.
If Gutierrez is found guilty of all the charges and specifications, the maximum punishment is a dishonorable discharge, 53 years and six months confinement, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and reduction to the lowest enlisted grade.
Gutierrez has been in the Air Force since 1990 and was assigned to the Royal Air Force in Alconbury, England, from 1990-94; Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri from 1994 to 2001; Kunsan Air Base in South Korea from 2001 to 2002; Aviano Air Base in Italy from 2002 to 2003; Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2003 to 2005; Aviano from 2005 to 2008, and McConnell since 2008.