If you or a loved one has been charged with homicide while serving in the military, you need to seek immediate legal assistance. As desperate or hopeless as things may seem right now, you have legal rights and options. Still, you cannot delay another day in getting yourself qualified help. Please contact a UCMJ defense specialist who has experience handling military homicide cases today.
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ): Homicide
Depending on the specific facts of a homicide case, the accused may be charged under any one of the following sections of the UCMJ:
Article 118 (Murder)
Under Article 118, a defendant can either be charged with murder (118(2), 118(3), 118(4)) or premeditated murder (118(1)). In a UCMJ premeditated murder case, the prosecution must prove the following required legal elements:
- Intent to kill;
- Proof of premeditation; and
- That the accused had soundness of mind.
If intent to kill can be established, but the prosecution cannot prove premeditation, or if they cannot rebut a claim that the defendant lacked soundness of mind, then the charge may be reduced to non premeditated murder. While all Article 118 charges are extremely serious, the specific charge is extremely important. This is because a premeditated murder charge can carry penalties that are substantially more severe. Indeed, premeditated murder opens up the possibility of a death sentence. Military prosecutors have been increasingly willing to put the death penalty on the table in military homicide cases. Currently convicted spree killer Ronald Gray is on death row, and he may soon be the first military execution in over five decades.
In non premeditated cases, specific intent to kill may not always be required to sustain a conviction. You can also be charged with murder under article 118 if you lack specific intent to kill, but you were engaging in inherently dangerous behavior or you were committing a felony when the death occurred. For example, in the 1993 case of United States v. McMonagle, a service member was convicted of murder under Article 118 after he started a sham firefight while deployed in Panama in order to cover up the fact that he had military equipment.
Article 119 (Manslaughter)
UCMJ Article 119 covers both voluntary manslaughter (119(1)) and involuntary manslaughter (119(2)).
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an unlawful killing that is done with intent, but that occurs in the heat of passion or in response to a provocation. Under the law, ‘provocation’ is supposed to be an ‘objective’ meaning. In other words, in order for an act to qualify as provocation, the act in question must have been an act that would have had a sufficient provocative effect on a reasonable man. For example, a person cutting another person in the lunch line would certainly not qualify as provocation. No reasonable man would not respond violently to such an act. Additionally, taunting or insulting remarks, by themselves, are also inadequate to establish provocation. On the other hand, in the case of United States v. Saulsberry, an Army Court found that sustained taunting combined with simple assault does meet the threshold for provocation under Article 119(1).
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as an unlawful killing that occurs unintentionally, but as a result of criminal recklessness or criminal negligence. To best understand how this applies, consider an example involving a deadly car accident. If your passenger was killed in a car accident, but you were following all of the rules of the road, you would not be legally responsible for the death. However, if your passenger was killed after you crashed your car while drunk driving (criminally reckless behavior), you could be held criminally responsible. Some examples of conduct that has been charged as criminally reckless in Article 119(2) involuntary manslaughter cases includes reckless driving, horseplay with weapons, drug overdoses, child abuse and gross negligence in surgery.
Article 119(a) (Death of an Unborn Child)
Recently, Article 119(a) was added to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This section covers death of or injury to an unborn child. It stems from a 2007 Executive Order signed by then President George W. Bush. This section applies to an unborn child in any stage of development post-conception but pre-birth. If a defendant is charged with an Article 119(a) offense, they cannot use lack of knowledge of the pregnancy as a legal defense. However, to be clear, this statute does not prohibit legal abortions.
Article 134 (Negligent Homicide)
Under Article 134, service members can be charged with negligent homicide. This type of charge is most similar to an involuntary manslaughter charge, but is reserved for the cases where the alleged negligence is less severe. While an Article 119(2) offense requires criminal negligence, an Article 134 offense only requires simple negligence. For example, causing a death while driving drunk may be charged as an involuntary manslaughter, whereas causing a death because of an inattentive lane change on the highway may only be charged as negligent homicide.
We Have the Experience Needed to Handle Military Homicide Cases
When military service members are charged with a crime, they are typically provided access to a military defense counsel. However, these assigned representative are almost always overworked. Rarely will this assigned counsel have the time needed to focus on your case. Additionally, most military provided counsel will have had no previous experience handling homicide cases. With so much at stake, you need to be represented by someone who actually knows who to protect your legal rights. You should work with a private defense attorney who has the skills and experience necessary to provide you with the best possible legal defense. Experience matters. Jocelyn C. Stewart has prior experience handling:
- Premeditated murder cases;
- Attempted murder cases;
- Manslaughter cases; and
- Negligent homicide cases.
Contact Our Team Today
To set up your free initial legal consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our firm today. At the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart, we are prepared to defend active and former military members in the in the United States, and at military bases all over the world, including in South Korea, Japan, Germany and Italy.