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 superiors could.
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.