Many readers continue to ask why military death penalty cases are time-consuming and extremely expensive. As noted in earlier posts, a military defendant is prohibited – by law – from pleading guilty in a court-martial where the death penalty is sought by Army prosecutors and commanders. Obviously, contested cases are always more costly and protracted. As the appellate courts have uniformally opined, Death Penalty Cases are “different”.
Similarly, forum requirements are also different in Death Penalty cases. As noted below, the law prohibits any court-martial case referred for capital disposition from being adjudicated by any forum other than a jury. That’s right – it has to be a Jury Trial. This obviously adds both considerable expense and time to final resolution of the case. The pertinent section of the Manual for Courts-Martial (RCM 201) provides the following:
A general court-martial composed only of a military judge does not have jurisdiction to try any person for any offense for which the death penalty may be adjudged unless the case has been referred to trial as non capital.
These costly and time-consuming decisions rest with Army commanders and prosecutors – not the Defense. When military commanders and their prosecutor advisors decide that they want to pursue the death penalty, they have only themselves to blame for the attendant cost and delays associated with those decisions. Sadly, many Army prosecutors and commanders make these important decisions for reasons wholly unrelated to a just and fair disposition of a particular case. Got a complaint about this situation – address your concerns to Army prosecutors, not the Defense.