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U.S. Military Poll

The About.comMilitary Justice Jurisdiction

Since the founding of our military, active duty military personnel have always been subject to a separate code of law and justice. At first, there were the Articles of War -- mainly adopted from the British Code -- which ultimately evolved into the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

During the Vietnam War, however, the military justice system had a bad reputation for injustice, denial of rights, and illegal command influence. It got so bad that in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in O'CALLAHAN v. PARKER, 395 U.S. 258 (1969) that a military person who committed a crime while off base, on leave, and not on duty, could not be tried by court-martial.

The Court then clarified this ruling in 1971 when it ruled in RELFORD v. U.S. DISCIPLINARY COMMANDANT, 401 U.S. 355 (1971) The court published the so-called "Relford Factors," which were 12 rules that the military had to follow in order to show a "service connection" to a crime, before they could assume jurisdiction. If these rules were met, the military did not have court-martial jurisdiction over the offense. The rules were:


1. The serviceman's proper absence from the base.

2. The crime's commission away from the base.

3. Its commission at a place not under military control.

4. Its commission within our territorial limits and not in an occupied zone of a foreign country.

5. Its commission in peacetime and its being unrelated to authority stemming from the war power.

6. The absence of any connection between the defendant's military duties and the crime.

7. The victim's not being engaged in the performance of any duty relating to the military.

8. The presence and availability of a civilian court in which the case can be prosecuted.

9. The absence of any flouting of military authority.

10. The absence of any threat to a military post.

11. The absence of any violation of military property.

12. The offense's being among those traditionally prosecuted in civilian courts.

The Military completely revamped it's justice sytem in the 1980s. It re-wrote the entire Manual for Courts-Martial, providing rights and protections for service-members which were unprecidented in history.

In fact, in 1987 the Supreme Court over-turned both the Relford and O'Callahan decisions. In SOLORIO v. UNITED STATES, 483 U.S. 435 (1987) the court held: "The jurisdiction of a court-martial depends solely on the accused's status as a member of the Armed Forces, and not on the 'service connection' of the offense charged." [Italics added]

Today, jurisdiction is a matter of pre-determined agreements with local authorities. In some areas, the military always takes jurisdiction. In other areas, the military takes jurisdiction only for certain offenses. In some places, each offense is considered on a case-by-case basis. Overseas, the matter is usually determined by a Status of Forces agreement.

What do you think? Should active duty military members be subject to court-martials for non-service connected crimes?

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