In January, a U.S. military judge in Germany decided that prosecutors in his court will need a unanimous guilty verdict to convict an officer accused of sexual assault charges. The judge specifically stated that there is “no rational basis for Congress’ different treatment of U.S. service members and civilians” regarding the requirement of unanimity of a jury for conviction. In another case, a U.S soldier appealing her negligent homicide conviction on the grounds that a military panel’s non-unanimous guilty verdict violated her constitutional rights.
Surprisingly, criminal convictions in the military justice system only require the agreement of three-fourths of panel members (i.e., jurors). This is very different than in the civilian justice system, which has always required unanimous jury agreement for a criminal conviction. This difference in the two systems is currently taking center stage in several military cases.
Our Founding Fathers required unanimous jury verdicts in non-military criminal prosecutions, and there is no compelling argument not to extend those protections to our military members who are responsible for protecting our nation. Unfortunately, there are many service members are suffering a federal conviction, serving long sentences, or facing sex offender registration even though panel members could not agree on their accountability.
There are complex constitutional law issues involving the Fifth and Sixth amendments as well as the legal standard which requires lower courts to follow existing precedents. Arguments by qualified attorneys will be made on both sides, making it difficult to predict how the current cases involving military panel verdicts will be resolved. Nevertheless, we are excited to see that this very important issue is being looked at closely, gaining attention in the media, and has an opportunity to be corrected.
To read more about the specifics in the cases noted above, see check out the recent article in Stars and Stripes. Owens & Kurz, LLC strongly agrees that this has the potential to be exciting new territory for military law.
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