A "jury of your peers" is a necessary part of every civilian
criminal trial, but in military court-martial, a verdict is rendered by
a court-martial panel. However, the case of a Navy seaman convicted of
rape is now headed to the military's highest court – Court of
Appeals for the Armed Forces – and may change the way these panels
are selected for courts-martial.
The attorneys of Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Darron Ward is shepherding
the case through the appeals process. As reported by
Military Times, Ward was convicted 2013 on rape charges, but his attorneys insist that
his court-martial was unfair. They cite a 2008 Navy order that requires
all court-martial panel members to have paygrades E-7 through 0-5. Seaman
Apprentice Ward's paygrade is E-2, meaning, essentially, that peers
of his rank could not preside over his court-martial—only ranking
Ward's attorneys say that the order creates an "appearance of
unfairness" and "undermines the entire military justice system."
Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals agreed with Seaman Apprentice Ward's
lawyers—but ultimately concluded that, in this case, the exclusion
of junior troops from serving on the court-martial panel did not affect
the guilty verdict. Navy lawyers quoted on this matter have expressed
a similar perspective.
However, the Uniform Code of Military Justice may support Seaman Apprentice
Ward's appeal. There are strict requirements for court-martial panel
selection, which include:
- Length of service
- Judicial temperament
Nowhere, however, do these selection rules mention a rank requirement.
Whether or not officers – who are in charge of directing, punishing,
and guiding junior military members – should solely be responsible
for considering criminal cases and rendering verdicts is now up for The
Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to decide.
Critical Court Decision Still Forthcoming
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was scheduled to hear this case
on March 17th. If they concur with Ward's lawyers, it could create
a seismic shift across the entire military justice system. A reversal
of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals' ruling could mean a fundamental
change in how court-martial panels are chosen. Our firm, along with countless
courts-martial practitioners across the country, will continue to monitor
this case closely in the weeks to come.
If you or a loved one is facing a military charge and want to put your
court martial case in trusted hands, then contact
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law today. Attorney Jordan has defended members of the military all over the
globe and provided incisive UCMJ insight and passionate advocacy for his
clients. Call our firm today to schedule a
free case evaluation.