339 U.S. 103 (1950), 359, Hiatt v. Brown

Docket Nº:No. 359
Citation:339 U.S. 103, 70 S.Ct. 495, 94 L.Ed. 691
Party Name:Hiatt v. Brown
Case Date:March 13, 1950
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 103

339 U.S. 103 (1950)

70 S.Ct. 495, 94 L.Ed. 691

Hiatt

v.

Brown

No. 359

United States Supreme Court

March 13, 1950

Argued February 6-7, 1950

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent, a soldier in the United States Army in Germany, was convicted of murder by a general court-martial and was sentenced to imprisonment. At the time of the trial, in 1947, the 8th Article of War required the authority appointing a general court-martial to detail as law member thereof an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Department, except when an officer of that department was "not available for the purpose." In the order of the commanding general appointing the general court-martial which tried respondent, the only officer named from the Judge Advocate General's Department was a captain who was designated as one of the assistant trial judge advocates, and he was absent from the trial on verbal orders of the commanding general. An order of the District Court sustaining a writ of habeas corpus and ordering respondent discharged was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Held:

1. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reviewable by this Court on certiorari under 28 U.S.C. § 1254. P. 106, n. 1.

2. The record in this case does not disclose any disregard of the 8th Article of War in the appointment of the general court-martial. Pp. 106-110.

(a) The fact that an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Department was detailed to a general court-martial in another capacity, and that nothing otherwise appeared to negative his availability as a law member, does not require the conclusion that he was "available" for appointment as law member, within the meaning of the 8th Article of War. Pp. 107-108.

(b) The availability of an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Department as law member of a general court-martial was intended by Congress to be a matter within the sound discretion of the appointing authority. P. 108.

(c) In the 8th Article of War, the phrase "available for the purpose" connotes an exercise of discretion by the appointing authority. Pp. 108-109.

(d) In the determination of the meaning of the 8th Article of War, this Court accords great weight to an interpretation of

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the Article which has been consistently given and applied by the Army. P. 109.

(e) The exercise of the discretion conferred on the appointing authority by the 8th Article may be reviewed by the courts only if a gross abuse of that discretion would have given rise to a defect in the jurisdiction of the court-martial, and whether the 8th Article imposes a requirement going to the jurisdiction need not here be determined, for nothing in the record indicates that the discretion of the appointing authority was improperly exercised. Pp. 109-110.

(f) On the record in this case, no abuse of the discretion of the appointing authority is disclosed by the appointment of an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Department in a capacity other than law member, or by reassignment of that officer to other duty at the time of the trial, or by the standard of competence in legal matters shown by the law member at the trial. P. 110.

3. The proceeding in the Court of Appeals being in habeas corpus, that court erred in extending its review, for the purpose of determining compliance with the due process clause, to such matters as the propositions of law set forth in the staff judge advocate's report, the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain respondent's conviction, the adequacy of the pretrial investigation, and the competence of the law member and defense counsel. Pp. 110-111.

(a) In a habeas corpus proceeding to obtain the release of one under sentence of a court-martial, the single inquiry is as to the jurisdiction of the court-martial. P. 111.

(b) The general court-martial in this case had jurisdiction of the person accused and of the offense charged, and acted within its lawful powers. P. 111.

(c) The correction of any errors which may have been committed by the general court-martial is for the military authorities, which are alone authorized to review its decision. In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1, 8-9. P. 111.

175 F.2d 273 reversed.

In a habeas corpus proceeding to secure respondent's release from imprisonment under a sentence of a general court-martial, the District Court sustained the writ and

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ordered respondent discharged. 81 F.Supp. 647. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 175 F.2d 273. This Court granted certiorari. 338 U.S. 890. Reversed, p. 111.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent, while serving as an enlisted soldier in the United States Army in Germany, was convicted by a general court-martial of committing murder on December 25, 1946, in violation of the 92d Article of War, 41 Stat. 805, 10 U.S.C. § 1564. The sentence imposed was dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and life imprisonment, which was reduced to twenty years upon recommendation of the Judge Advocate General. On petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ordered respondent discharged from the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, 81 F.Supp. 647 (1948), and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, one judge dissenting. 175 F.2d 273, 277 (1949). Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals concluded that the military tribunal which convicted respondent was improperly constituted and lacked jurisdiction of the offense. The Court of Appeals held further that the record was "replete with highly prejudicial errors and irregularities" which deprived respondent of due process of law under the Fifth Amendment and afforded an independent ground for sustaining the writ. We brought the case here, on petition of the warden having custody of respondent, in view of the

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importance of the decision below in the administration of military justice. 338 U.S. 890 (1949). Our jurisdiction to review the judgment of the Court of Appeals is under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(1).1

Respondent was tried in Germany on January 9 and 14, 1947, before a general court-martial which had been appointed by order of the commanding general of the Continental Base Section, European Theater, on December 7, 1946. The detail appointed was comprised of a trial judge advocate and two assistant trial judge advocates, defense counsel and two assistant defense counsel, the law member and twelve other officers. The ranking officer of the detail, a Colonel of the Field Artillery with twenty-five years of commissioned service, was appointed law member. The only member of the detail appointed from the Judge Advocate General's Department was a captain who was designated an assistant trial judge advocate.2 He was absent from respondent's trial on verbal orders of the commanding general.

The Court of Appeals determined that, under these circumstances, the court-martial had been appointed in disregard of the 8th Article of War, 41 Stat. 788, 10 U.S.C. § 1479. The relevant provision of this article

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as in force at the time of respondent's trial is set forth in the margin.3 The article was interpreted by the Court of Appeals as requiring, [70 S.Ct. 497]

certainly in times of peace, that the presence of a duly qualified law member from the Judge Advocate General's Department be made a jurisdictional prerequisite to the validity of such court-martial proceeding, except in the single instance where such officer is actually, and in fact, "not available."

175 F.2d at 276. The Court of Appeals held that the availability of a law member from the Judge Advocate General's Department was conclusively indicated by the order detailing an officer from that department in another capacity without any explanation. Thus, the court concluded that the proceeding was void.

We are unable to agree with the...

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