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A look at military courts-martial panel selection

Fundamental fairness in the American legal system requires that juries in criminal trials be fairly selected, with jurors being free of taint as regards prejudicial views against a defendant that might unlawfully influence a judicial outcome (indeed, Article VI of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution refers to a defendant's right to an "impartial jury" in all criminal prosecutions).

A similar concern with impartiality and fairness exists under military law, with the Uniform Code of Military Justice mandating a vetting process that results in the "best qualified" servicemembers being selected as courts-martial panel members.

As noted in a recent article in the Military Times on panel member composition in courts-martial proceedings, the UCMJ "does not explicitly say anything about rank" regarding the member selection process for criminal matters.

However, it seems hard to reasonably argue that systematic exclusion of would-be panel members based upon their rank is patently unfair and could compromise a criminal proceeding's process and outcome.

That is in fact precisely what is being argued by military attorneys in an appellate case slated to be heard by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. That tribunal -- the military's highest court -- will consider whether a Navy commander's order that potential panel members in courts-martial proceedings be drawn only from within a specified pay grade range that excluded participation from many ranks was illegal and unfair.

Unwavering fairness in the military criminal justice system is obviously a top-priority concern for all military members, with the impartiality of courts-martial panels being a central consideration in any assessment of justice and evenhandedness.

We will inform readers of the case outcome as soon as it issues.

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