08 June 2009

U.S. military courts have jurisdiction to correct their own errors

[UPDATED from earlier post.] The Supreme Court of the United States today held 5-4 in United States v. Denedo that military courts have jurisdiction to consider, and correct, their own errors after a court-martial is final. The United States had argued that military courts no longer had jurisdiction to consider fundamental errors once a case became final under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But the majority rejected the government's contention. The opinion can be found here. Denedo's case has been previously discussed on this blog here.

CAAFlog's Dwight Sullivan gives his analysis of the Denedo decision in a three part series found here, here and here. Mr. Sullvian also provides some initial thoughts on the ramifications of Denedo which can be found here. SCOTUSblog gives an opinion recap here.

Back in June of 2008 I wrote commentary in the Legal Times calling Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Judge Margaret Ryan's dissent well reasoned. That commentary can be found here. After careful thought, I did not believe under the current language of the law that military courts had the jurisdiction to review a case that was final absent directly challenging the actual jurisdiction of the court-martial itself (i.e. there was a fatal jurisdictional defect in the creation of the court-martial not known at the time it was convened). However, I believed that a legislative fix was warranted to provide ex-servicemembers like Denedo an avenue for redress and have argued to give the military boards of correction back their jurisdiction by repealing 10 U.S.C. 1552(f). I think for situations like Denedo's the military courts should not be used to redress such grievances because the court-martial is final and the ex-servicemember is no longer in the military.

The U.S. Department of Defense may try to lobby Congress to shut the door that the Supreme Court has now opened to ex-servicemembers. If Congress, by statute, closes off military courts to error coram nobis proceedings where the case is final under the UCMJ, I strongly believe that Congress should provide another avenue for redress. I don't believe that an ex-servicemember should be left in the lurch in situations like Denedo's case. Assuming arguendo that Congress shuts the door, I still believe that a military appellate court would (and should) have jurisdiction to vacate a court-martial that was improperly convened in the first instance without regard to whether the case is final or not (that was not the situation in Denedo's case).

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