14 July 2009

Court-Martial Appeals Would Change Under New Bill

24-7 - A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee is considering a military justice bill that would allow service members to appeal court-martial convictions to the Supreme Court. Current law limits the right to appeal for military members, giving them what critics charge are fewer rights than those accorded to illegal immigrants or enemy combatants.

The Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009 (HR 569) was passed by the House last year by voice vote but never made it through the Senate. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., reintroduced the bill this year. Davis chairs the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel.

Davis says the current appeals limits for GIs denies them the right to direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, an avenue open to civilians, immigrants and enemy combatants.

The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Supporters of the bill have stressed that the fears that financial costs to the military would be exorbitant are unjustified. They argue that the high court takes few cases and that, regardless of possible legal fees, rights shouldn't have price tags attached.

Estimates of the costs of a court-martial appeal range from $30,000 to $1 million per appeal, an expense the Pentagon would likely bear because most GIs convicted in court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice use military lawyers for appeals.

Critics of current law argue that service members possess the same rights to due process and equal protection of the law as citizens and lawful immigrants, but that access to those rights is unfairly restricted.

While GIs can appeal cases to the Supreme Court, the technical demands placed on their appeals -- hurdles civilians don't have to clear -- effectively eliminate the possibility of the highest court in the land ever reviewing their cases. The Military Justice Act of 1983 enabled the Appeals Court and Solicitor General to each unilaterally limit the military appeals that could be presented for review to the Supreme Court.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also backs the Equal Justice for Our Military Act.

Article provided by National Military Justice Group

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