US Supreme Court Rejects Statute of Limitations for Military Rape

Facts of this Case

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provides a military crime,”punishable by death, may be tried and punished at any time without restriction.” Other military crimes are subject to a 5-year statute of limitations.

The case revolves around three army support members convicted of rape. When they were billed, the UCMJ given that rape might be”penalized by death.” Since the Supreme Court held Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584, 592 (1977) the Eighth Amendment prohibits a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman, respondents argued they couldn’t, in actuality, were sentenced to death, and for that reason the UCMJ’s 5-year statute of limitations applies and pubs their convictions. Accordingly, it resisted the rape convictions of respondents.

Supreme Court’s Conclusion

Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of this Court.

Since Justice Alito clarified the Respondents maintained that the UCMJ phrase”punishable by death” means able to punishment by death when all pertinent law has been taken into consideration. The Government characterized the phrase more like a word of art, meaning able of punishment by death under the punishment provisions of the UCMJ. While the Court acknowledged that there had been”reasonable arguments on each side,” it ultimately sided with the administration’s interpretation of this statute. In service, Justice Alito cited three reasons.

First, Justice Alito noted that UCMJ is a uniform code and that”a natural referent for a statute of limitations provision over the UCMJ is also other law in the UCMJ itself.” He explained:

In the context of this UCMJ, so, Article 120’s directive that rape might be”penalized by death” would be probably the most natural place to start looking for Congress’s response to whether rape was”punish- able by death” over the meaning of Article 43(a). We believe that’s so even if, as respondents claim the individual prohibition on”cruel or unusual punishment” in Article 55 of the UCMJ would have been held to present an independent defense from the imposition of the death penalty for rape.

Second, Justice Alito concluded that the Respondents’ interpretation of §843(a) is not the sort of limitations provision that Congress is likely to have selected. Emphasizing that clarity is an objective for which lawmakers try when enacting these provisions, Justice Alito noted the deadline for filing rape charges would be uncertain under the Respondents’ interpretation, since it would depend on an unresolved constitutional question regarding Coker’s application to army prosecutions, on the Supreme Court’s “`evolving standards of decency”’ beneath the Eighth Amendment, and also on whether §855 of this UCMJ individually prohibits a death sentence for rape.

“In summary, if we approved the interpretation of Article 43(a) embraced by the CAAF and defended by respondents, we would have to conclude that this provision set out a statute of limitations that nobody could have known with any real assurance until important and novel legal questions were resolved by this Court,” Justice Alito written. “That is not the sort of limitations provision that Congress is more likely to have selected.”

Third, Justice Alito found that the things that lawmakers are likely to take into consideration when adjusting the statute of limitations for a crime vary considerably from the factors that underlie the Court’s Eighth Amendment choices. “[S]ince the ends served by statutes of limitations differ sharply from those served by provisions such as the Eighth Amendment or Article 55 of the UCMJ, it’s not likely that lawmakers would need to tie a statute of limitations on judicial interpretations of these provisions,” he wrote.

Depending on the above, the Court concluded that that”punishable by death” is a”term of art that’s characterized by the provisions of the UCMJ specifying the punishments for the crimes it outlaws.” Accordingly, it held that the Respondents’ prosecutions were timely.
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