U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces – worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the armed forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice

     The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the armed forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Court is composed of five civilian judges appointed for 15-year terms by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

     Cases on the Court’s docket address a broad range of legal issues, including constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, ethics, administrative law, and national security law.  Decisions by the Court are subject to direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States. [1]

Official Website
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Court Brochure (PDF)

     Since October 31, 1952, the Court has been located in Judiciary Square in the federal courthouse at 450 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20442-0001. The courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected in 1910, and was formerly the home of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

     Courts-martial are judicial proceedings conducted by the armed forces.  The Continental Congress first authorized the use of courts-martial in 1775.  From the time of the Revolutionary War through the middle of the twentieth century, courts-martial were governed by the Articles of War and the Articles for the Government of the Navy.

     Until 1920, court-martial convictions were reviewed either by a commander in the field or by the President, depending on the severity of the sentence or the rank of the accused.  The absence of formal review received critical attention during World War I, and the Army created an internal legal review process for a limited number of cases.  Following the war, in the Act of June 4, 1920, Congress required the Army to establish Boards of Review, consisting of three lawyers, to consider cases involving death, dismissal of an officer, an unsuspended dishonorable discharge, or confinement in a penitentiary, with limited exceptions.  The legislation further required legal review of other cases in the Office of the Judge Advocate General.

     The military justice system under the Articles of War and Articles for the Government of the Navy received significant attention during World War II and its immediate aftermath.  During the war, in which over 16 million persons served in the American armed forces, the military services held over 1.7 million courts-martial. Many of these proceedings were conducted without lawyers acting as presiding officers or counsel.  Studies conducted by the military departments and the civilian bar identified a variety of problems in the administration of military justice during the war, including the potential for improper command influence.

     In 1948, Congress enacted significant reforms in the Articles of War, including creation of a Judicial Council of three general officers to consider cases involving sentences of death, life imprisonment, or dismissal of an officer, as well as cases referred to the Council by a Board of Review or the Judge Advocate General.  During the same period, Congress placed the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the newly created Department of Defense.  The first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, created a committee under the chairmanship of Professor Edmund Morgan to study the potential for unifying and revising the services’ disparate military justice systems under a single code.

     The committee recommended a unified system applicable to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  The committee also recommended that qualified attorneys serve as presiding officers and counsel, subject to limited exceptions.  Numerous other changes were proposed by the committee to enhance the rights of servicemembers in the context of the disciplinary needs of the armed forces.  The recommendations included creation of an independent civilian appellate court.

     The committee’s recommendations, as revised by Congress, became the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), enacted on May 5, 1950. Article 67 of the UCMJ established the Court of Military Appeals as a three-judge civilian court.  The Report of the House Armed Services Committee accompanying the legislation emphasized that the new Court would be “completely removed from all military influence of persuasion.”  The legislation became effective on May 31, 1951.  In 1968, Congress redesignated the Court as the United States Court of Military Appeals.

     As initially established, the Court was the final authority on cases arising under the military justice system, except for a limited number of cases considered by the Supreme Court of the United States under collateral proceedings, such as through writs of habeas corpus. In 1983, Congress authorized direct appeal to the Supreme Court of cases decided by the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, except for cases involving denial of a petition for discretionary review.

     In 1989, Congress enacted comprehensive legislation to enhance the effectiveness and stability of the Court. The legislation increased the Court’s membership to five judges, consistent with the American Bar Association’s Standards for Court Organization. In 1994, Congress gave the Court its current designation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. [2]

References:

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[1]: United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces:  http://www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/home.htm

[2]: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, “About”http://www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/about.htm

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