Solorio v. United States

Decision Date25 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85-1581,85-1581
Citation483 U.S. 435,97 L.Ed.2d 364,107 S.Ct. 2924
PartiesRichard SOLORIO, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

A general court-martial was convened under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Code) in New York, where petitioner was serving in the Coast Guard, to try him for the sexual abuse of fellow coastguardsmen's minor daughters in his privately owned home in Alaska during a prior tour of duty. The Code empowers courts-martial to try servicemen for such crimes. However, the court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction under O'Callahan v. Parker, 395 U.S. 258, 89 S.Ct. 1683, 23 L.Ed.2d 291, which held that a military tribunal may not try a serviceman charged with a crime that has no "service connection," and Relford v. Commandant, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, 401 U.S. 355, 91 S.Ct. 649, 28 L.Ed.2d 102, which enumerated numerous factors to be weighed in determining whether an offense is service connected. The Coast Guard Court of Military Review reversed the dismissal and reinstated the charges, and the Court of Military Appeals affirmed, concluding that the Alaska offenses were service connected within the meaning of O'Callahan and Relford.

Held : The jurisdiction of a court-martial depends solely on the accused's status as a member of the Armed Forces, and not on the "service connection" of the offense charged. Thus, O'Callahan is overruled. The plain meaning of Art. I, § 8, cl. 14, of the Constitution—which grants Congress plenary power "[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" supports the military status test, as was held in numerous decisions of this Court prior to O'Callahan.O'Callahan's service connection test is predicated on the Court's less-than-accurate reading of the history of court-martial jurisdiction in England and in this country during the 17th and 18th centuries, which history is far too ambiguous to justify the restriction on Clause 14's plain language which the Court imported to it. Clause 14 answers concerns about the general use of military courts for the trial of ordinary crimes by vesting in Congress, rather than the Executive, authority to make rules for military governance. The Clause grants Congress primary responsibility for balancing the rights of servicemen against the needs of the military, and Congress' implementation of that responsibility is entitled to judicial deference. That civil courts are "ill equipped" to establish policies regarding matters of military concern is substantiated by the confusion evidenced in military court decisions attempting to apply the service connection approach, even after Relford. Pp. 438-451.

21 M.J. 251 (CMA 1986), affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. ----. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in all but the last paragraph of which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. ----.

Lt. Cmdr. Robert W. Bruce, Jr., Governors Island, N.Y., for petitioner.

Eugene R. Fidell, Washington, D.C., for American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae supporting petitioner, by special leave of Court.

Charles Fried, Sol. Gen., Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the jurisdiction of a court-martial convened pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (U.C.M.J.) to try a member of the Armed Forces depends on the "service connection" of the offense charged. We hold that it does not, and overrule our earlier decision in O'Callahan v. Parker, 395 U.S. 258, 89 S.Ct. 1683, 23 L.Ed.2d 291 (1969).

While petitioner Richard Solorio was on active duty in the Seventeenth Coast Guard District in Juneau, Alaska, he sexually abused two young daughters of fellow coastguardsmen. Petitioner engaged in this abuse over a 2-year period until he was transferred by the Coast Guard to Governors Island, New York. Coast Guard authorities learned of the Alaska crimes only after petitioner's transfer, and investigation revealed that he had later committed similar sexual abuse offenses while stationed in New York. The Governors Island commander convened a general court-martial to try petitioner for crimes alleged to have occurred in Alaska and New York.

There is no "base" or "post" where Coast Guard personnel live and work in Juneau. Consequently, nearly all Coast Guard military personnel reside in the civilian community. Petitioner's Alaska offenses were committed in his privately owned home, and the fathers of the 10- to 12-year-old victims in Alaska were active duty members of the Coast Guard assigned to the same command as petitioner. Petitioner's New York offenses also involved daughters of fellow coastguardsmen, but were committed in Government quarters on the Governors Island base.

After the general court-martial was convened in New York, petitioner moved to dismiss the charges for crimes committed in Alaska on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction under this Court's decisions in O'Callahan v. Parker, supra, and Relford v. Commandant, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, 401 U.S. 355, 91 S.Ct. 649, 28 L.Ed.2d 102 (1971).1 Ruling that the Alaska offenses were not sufficiently "service connected" to be tried in the military criminal justice system, the court-martial judge granted the motion to dismiss. The Government appealed the dismissal of the charges to the United States Coast Guard Court of Military Review, which reversed the trial judge's order and reinstated the charges. 21 M.J. 512 (1985).

The United States Court of Military Appeals affirmed the Court of Military Review, concluding that the Alaska offenses were service connected within the meaning of O'Callahan and Relford. 21 M.J. 251 (1986). Stating that "not every off-base offense against a servicemember's dependent is service-connected," the court reasoned that "sex offenses against young children . . . have a continuing effect on the victims and their families and ultimately on the morale of any military unit or organization to which the family member is assigned." Id., at 256. In reaching its holding, the court also weighed a number of other factors, including: the interest of Alaska civilian officials in prosecuting petitioner; the hardship on the victims, who had moved from Alaska, that would result if they were called to testify both at a civilian trial in Alaska and at the military proceeding in New York; and the benefits to petitioner and the Coast Guard from trying the Alaska and New York offenses together.2 This Court subsequently granted certiorari pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1259(3) (1982 ed., Supp. III) 476 U.S. 1181, 106 S.Ct. 2914, 91 L.Ed.2d 543 (1986), to review the decision of the Court of Military Appeals. We now affirm.

The Constitution grants to Congress the power "[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 14. Exercising this authority, Congress has empowered courts-martial to try servicemen for the crimes proscribed by the U.C.M.J Arts. 2, 17, 10 U.S.C. §§ 802, 817. The Alaska offenses with which petitioner was charged are each described in the U.C.M.J. See n. 1, supra. Thus it is not disputed that the court-martial convened in New York possessed the statutory authority to try petitioner on the Alaska child abuse specifications.

In an unbroken line of decisions from 1866 to 1960, this Court interpreted the Constitution as conditioning the proper exercise of court-martial jurisdiction over an offense on one factor: the military status of the accused. Gosa v. Mayden, 413 U.S. 665, 673, 93 S.Ct. 2926, 2932, 37 L.Ed.2d 873 (1973) (plurality opinion); see Kinsella v. United States ex rel. Singleton, 361 U.S. 234, 240-241, 243, 80 S.Ct. 297, 300-301, 302, 4 L.Ed.2d 268 (1960); Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 22-23, 77 S.Ct. 1222, 1233-1234, 1 L.Ed.2d 1148 (1957) (plurality opinion); Grafton v. United States, 206 U.S. 333, 348, 27 S.Ct. 749, 752, 51 L.Ed.2d 1084 (1907); Johnson v. Sayre, 158 U.S. 109, 114, 15 S.Ct. 773, 775-776, 39 L.Ed. 914 (1895); Smith v. Whitney, 116 U.S. 167, 183-185, 6 S.Ct. 570, 578-580, 29 L.Ed. 601 (1886); Coleman v. Tennessee, 97 U.S. (7 Otto) 509, 513-514, 24 L.Ed. 1118 (1879); Ex parte Milligan, 4 Wall. 2, 123, 18 L.Ed. 281 (1866); cf. United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11, 15, 76 S.Ct. 1, 4, 100 L.Ed. 8 (1955); Kahn v. Anderson, 255 U.S. 1, 6-9, 41 S.Ct. 224, 225-226, 65 L.Ed. 469 (1921); Givens v. Zerbst, 255 U.S. 11, 20-21, 41 S.Ct. 227, 229, 65 L.Ed. 475 (1921). This view was premised on what the Court described as the "natural meaning" of Art. I, § 8, cl. 14, as well as the Fifth Amendment's exception for "cases arising in the land or naval forces." Reid v. Covert, supra, 354 U.S., at 19, 77 S.Ct., at 1231; United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, supra, 350 U.S., at 15, 76 S.Ct., at 4. As explained in Kinsella v. Singleton, supra:

"The test for jurisdiction . . . is one of status, namely, whether the accused in the court-martial proceeding is a person who can be regarded as falling within the term 'land and naval Forces.'. . ." Id., 361 U.S., at 240-241, 80 S.Ct., at 301 (emphasis in original).

"Without contradiction, the materials . . . show that military jurisdiction has always been based on the 'status' of the accused, rather than on the nature of the offense. To say that military jurisdiction 'defies definition in terms of military "status" ' is to defy the unambiguous language of Art. I, § 8, cl. 14, as well as the historical background thereof and the precedents with reference thereto." Id., at 243, 80 S.Ct., at 302.

Implicit in the military status test was the principle that determinations concerning...

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