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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Supreme Court Appellate Jurisdiction Over Military Court Cases

R. Chuck Mason
Legislative Attorney

Military courts, authorized by Article I of the U.S. Constitution, have jurisdiction over cases involving military servicemembers, including, in some cases, retired servicemembers. They have the power to convict for crimes defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including both uniquely military offenses and crimes with equivalent definitions in civilian laws. For example, in United States v. Stevenson, military courts prosecuted a retired serviceman for rape, a crime often tried in civilian courts.

The military court system includes military courts-martial; a Criminal Court of Appeals for each branch of the armed services; and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF), which has discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all military cases. With the exception of potential final review by the U.S. Supreme Court, these Article I courts handle review of military cases in an appellate system that rarely interacts with Article III courts.

Criminal defendants in the Article III judicial system have an automatic right to appeal to federal courts of appeal and then a right to petition the Supreme Court for final review. In contrast, defendants in military cases typically may not appeal their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court unless the highest military court, the CAAF, had also granted discretionary review in the case.

Companion bills introduced in the 111
th Congress, the Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2010 (H.R. 569) and the Equal Justice for United States Military Personnel Act of 2009 (S. 357), would have authorized appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court for all military cases, including cases that the CAAF declined to review. While neither of the companion bills passed their respective chamber, the House passed a similar measure, H.R. 3174, during the 110th Congress. To date, however, similar legislation has not been introduced in the 112th Congress.

Date of Report: March 30, 2011
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RL34697
Price: $29.95

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