Facts and Figures

Number of Executions

135 people have been executed by the Army since 1916. (Source: National Law Journal, April 4, 1999; see Military Executions for a list of additional executions)

Date of Last Military Execution

On April 13, 1961, U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder. (R. Serrano, “Last Soldier to Die at Levenworth Hanged in an April Storm,” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1994)

Minimum Age to Receive the Death Penalty

18 Years

Method of Execution

Lethal Injection

Death Row Location

U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Military Death Sentencing Rate

Under the current death penalty system (adopted in January 1984), there have been 47 capital courts-martial resulting in 15 adjudged death sentences, for a 31.9% prosecution “success” rate. (Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, March 2008).

Date of Death Penalty Reinstatement (following Furman v. Georgia)

In 1983, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals held in U.S. v. Matthews, 16 M.J. 354, that military capital sentencing procedures were unconstitutional for failing to require a finding of individualized aggravating circumstances. In 1984, the death penalty was reinstated when President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order adopting detailed rules for capital courts-martial. Among the rules was a list of 11 aggravating factors that qualify defendants for death sentences.

Life Without Parole

A 1997 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice offers a previously unavailable alternative to the death penalty. For crimes that occurred on or after November 17, 1997, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole became available. Prior to this legislation, servicemembers serving a life sentence would have become eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Clemency Process

The President has the power to commute a death sentence. No servicemember can be executed unless the President personally confirms the death penalty. There has been one commutation of a military death sentence since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976: On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence that had been imposed on Dwight Loving (B) in 1989.

Capital Offenses

The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides the death penalty as a possible punishment for 15 offenses (10 USC Sections 886-934), many of which must occur during a time of war. All 9 men on the military’s death row had been convicted of premeditated murder or felony murder.

Who Decides Sentence

In a military capital case, the convening authority — a high ranking commanding officer who decides to bring the case to a court martial — decides if the death penalty will be sought. Once decided, the convening authority picks those servicemembers who will serve as panel members/jurors. One requirement for the panel is that if the accused so chooses, at least one-third of the panel must consist of enlisted personnel. The panel must consist of 12 members. (Rules for Courts-Martial 501(a)).

By the Numbers: Military Death Penalty Cases

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News, Nov. 9, 2009

49: military cases in which the death penalty was sought since 1984

15: convictions in capital trials since then

2: times among the 15 that the commanding general has commuted the sentence to life

8: times an appeals court has reversed the conviction, commuted the sentence or ordered a new trial

5: defendants on death row, 3 of whom have appeals pending in military courts

2: condemned servicemen who have exhausted their military appeals. One has had his conviction upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and awaits an order from the president to be executed. The other had his death writ signed by President George W. Bush, but his case has been appealed to federal district court.