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Senator Feinstein Introduces Legislation to Give Armed Forces Personnel the Same Due-Process Appeal Rights as Civilians

-Legislation would permit equal right to appeal convictions to U.S. Supreme Court-

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would grant U.S. service members the same rights as civilians to appeal their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under U.S. law, civilians convicted of crimes can petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case after exhausting their appeals to the federal appellate courts or a state Supreme Court.

Members of the military do not have this same basic right. If the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denies a service member’s petition for review – which happens in the overwhelming majority of cases – they are barred from petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Equal Justice for U.S. Service Members Act -- cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) -- would eliminate this major disparity between civilian and military justice.

“In the United States today, all civilians convicted of a crime may petition the U.S. Supreme Court after they lose at the appeals court level. But members of the armed forces don’t have the same rights. This is simply wrong. The people who decide to wear the uniform of this country should be afforded the same due process rights as civilians. This legislation would do exactly that,” Senator Feinstein said.

Currently, unless they face the death penalty, members of the armed services may petition the U.S. Supreme Court only after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces either conducts a review of their case or grants a petition for extraordinary relief.

But this occurs in only about 10 percent of military criminal cases, leaving the vast majority of court-martialed service members precluded from seeking or obtaining direct review from the high court.

In addition to this disparity, military prosecutors have the ability to petition the Supreme Court to review adverse rulings in these same cases, meaning that service members are denied the same rights as their prosecutors.  This inequality has been noted by the American Bar Association, which passed a resolution last year calling on Congress to fix a long-standing “disparity in our laws governing procedural due process.”

“It is time to correct this unequal situation.  Our U.S. service personnel regularly place their lives on the line in defense of American rights.  It is simply unacceptable for us to continue to routinely deprive our men and women in uniform of one of those basic rights if they ever need it themselves – the ability to petition their nation’s highest court for direct relief,” Senator Feinstein said.

The Equal Justice for U.S. Service Members Act is similar to legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.). It would:

  • Apply specifically to court-martialed service personnel who face dismissal, discharge or confinement of more than one year;
  • Allow service members to file a petition for writ of certiorari – a document asking for U.S. Supreme Court review -- in any case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has denied review; and
  • Allow a petition for writ of certiorari to be filed in any case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has denied a petition for extraordinary relief.

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