Sunday, June 9, 2013

Few sentenced to death by Army courts martial

Even fewer executed by tribunals

Ft. Hood – Death by order of the President of the U.S. following conviction for a capital crime in a General Court Martial is a very rare occurrence.

Until 1984, there were no hard and fast rules regarding the aggravating circumstances that would lead to a court martial seeking a death penalty.

In a 1983 case, U.S. v. Matthews (16 MJ 354), the Armed Forces Court of Appeals held that sentencing procedures were unconstitutional because they failed to require a finding of individualized aggravating circumstances.

All that changed when President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order listing 11 rules that will lead a high-ranking officer who orders a general court martial to direct the court to charge the jurors to find circumstances that require a death by lethal injection.

The latest Army execution for a capital crime occurred in 1961 – by hanging – for a conviction of rape and attempted murder.

In all of the Armed Forces during World War Two, between 1941 to 1946, 141 individuals were charged with capital offenses in which the Armed Forces sought the death penalty. Most were for rape, robbery, or lifting a weapon to a superior officer. Only one was executed for desertion.

Since 1916, 135 Army troopers have been prosecuted for capital offenses in which an officer directed to the jury panel of 12 officers to apply evidence to a possible finding of the death sentence.

An accused individual is entitled to Article 32 hearings to determine if there is sufficient evidence to go ahead with a trial. These hearing are similar to a Grand Jury proceeding, except they must take place in open court where a defendant is represented by defense counsel.

If an accused so desires, at least one-third of the jury panel must be enlisted men.

In offenses that occurred on or after Nov. 17, 1997, a sentence of life with no possibility of parole is possible.

To pass a death sentence, the panel must be unanimous in its verdict of guilt and also in its recommendation of a death sentence. In other cases, only two-thirds must find a verdict of guilt and agree on a sentence.

The commanding general must approve of the death penalty and sign an order to have it carried out. The President must concur by signing the order, as well.

Since 1984, courts martial have sentenced 15 individuals to death in a total of 47 capital cases for a 'success' rate of only 31.9 percent.

All but five have been reversed - 2 by commanding generals, 8 by appeals courts.

The remaining five reside on death row at the Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas where 3 await word of an appeal to a military court.

Two have exhausted their appeals.

Only one has a presidential death order in place, signed by President George W. Bush.

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