STUDIES: Disparate Administration of the Military Death Penalty

A recent study of the military death penalty by Professor David Baldus revealed disparities depending on whether the victim in the underlying crime was also a member of the military or was a civilian. The paper was co-authored by Professors Catherine Grosso and George Woodworth and will be published by the Michigan Journal of Law Reform. The authors note that despite a 1984 executive order that “defined death eligible murder in the armed forces principally in terms of civilian murder modeled after state law systems,” the military death penalty has been implemented in such a way that shows a large disparity between military murder and civilian murder. The study concluded that soldiers who are accused of civilian murder were less likely to face a capital court martial, to receive a capital conviction, and to be sentenced to death than soldiers who were accused of a military murder (murder of a commissioned or non-commissioned officer). “In this process,” the report said, “the military death penalty has come to be used almost exclusively as a disciplinary vehicle to protect the authority and effectiveness of military command.”

(C. Grosso, D. Baldus, and G. Woodworth, “The Impact of Civilian Aggravating Circumstances on the Military Death Penalty: Another Chapter in the Resistance of the Armed Forces to the Civilianization of Military Justice, 1984-2005,” Research Paper No. 07-13, Michigan State University College of Law, June 18, 2009). See also U.S. Military and Studies.