12 September 2007

Courts Martial Statistics and What They Imply

Army Courts Martial Statistics

In the fiscal year 2000, the last year before the current war arrived and complicated the statistical analysis, the United States Army, which at the time had 482,176 active duty soldiers, tried 731 General Courts Martial (the equivalent of a civilian felony prosecution), with 78 resulting in acquittals; 393 Special Courts Martial (the equivalent of a civilian misdemeanor prosecution) with 75 resulting in acquittals, and 666 Summary Courts Martial (petty offenses in proceedings to which only enlisted men can be subjected, on the order of municipal ordinance violation cases in seriousness) with 28 acquittals.

This includes all cases where there was an arraignment, even if there was no actual trial, because charges were withdrawn or dismissed.

The Courts Martial equivalent of a jury was requested in 24% of General Courts Martial and in 19% of Special Courts Martial, with the rest of those Courts Martial tried by a military judge alone.

There were also 41,285 non-judicial punishments in the Army under Section 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that year. These involve "minor offenses" and the potential punishments are more serious than what a civilian employer or residential educational institution could impose on an employee or student, respective, although they overlap, but no more serious than the punishment for a petty offense or ordinance violation in a court not of record (complicated by elaborate provisions for greater discretion when punishment is imposed by a more senior officer). These are generally consider "non-criminal" and on a par with traffic offenses.

These data exclude civilian criminal justice actions both domestically and in foreign jurisdictions. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Army soldiers in a typical year face foreign criminal or quasi-criminal prosecutions, but roughly 94% are released from those prosecutions to military jurisdiction, and the sentences in those cases were servicemen are not released to military jurisdiction and are convicted are overwhelmingy minor, with about 86% consisting only of fines or a reprimand, with only about dozen consisting of any period of incarceration pursuant to a foreign conviction, and with about four dozen producing suspended incarceration sentences. It appears therefore, that most soldiers released facing foreign prosections who are transferred to military custody are involved in cases of minor offenses and receive no punishment from any source or a non-judical punishment. Good data on domestic civilian prosecutions of soldiers for crimes is not available, but certainly could be significant.

In non-war years, typically fewer than twenty Army officers are discharged through the military justice system, something that would normally result from a court martial conviction of a serious offense (the rate is almost twice as high in the Navy and Marine Corps for some reason).

There were 706 general and special courts martial cases referred for review to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the direct appeal from a court martial. Under military law, there is automatic appellate review of "all cases in which the approved sentence includes death, a punitive discharge, or confinement for at least a year, and all cases referred to it by the service Judge Advocate General.", but appellate counsel was involved in 97% of these cases. Another 113 general courts martial cases were reviewed by the Judge Advocate General's office, but not by an appellate body. The statistics don't indicate the results of these appellate or quasi-appellate reviews.

In all, 239 were appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which reversed 48 of those.


Courts Martial have a reputation for being venues in which conviction was almost automatic, and that was once the case. But, acquittal rates in serious cases are now actually comparable to, or even slightly higher than, those found in the civilian criminal justice system, where 90% of felony defendants and 75% of misdemeanor defendants are convicted. Appellate review, likewise, based on the part of the reversal rate that the statistics reveal, is meaningful.

Colorado had 46,501 felony prosecutions in the 2006 fiscal year, and 75,703 misdemeanor prosecutions (including petty offenses) that same year. There were also 168,155 traffic cases in Colorado state courts (municipal courts also handle many traffic cases) that year. In that year, Colorado has an estimated population of 4,753,377.

Thus, the Army had about 1.5% of the felony prosecutions, and about 1.4% of the misdemeanor prosecutions of the entire state of Colorado.

This is despite the fact that the Army has 10.1% as many people as Colorado, although the active duty soldier to general Colorado population comparison, without further refinement, is pretty meaningless.

For example, 25% of Colorado's population consists of children (whose offenses are overwhelmingly, although not entirely, handled in a separate juvenile justice system), is 50% female (men make up 85% of convicted misdemeanor and felony defendants, and men accounted for 84% Army soldiers in 2000), and 19% of its residents over the age of 54 (who are largely absent from the Army and have much lower crime rates than younger adults, also within the 18-54 range the Army's population is skewed towards younger and hence more crime prone ages).

Colorado had about 1,325,000 men of military age in 2006, while the Army had about 405,000, about 31% of the number in Colorado. This implies that the prosecuted crime rate in the Army is less than 5% of the crime rate in the general population, for individuals of comparable age and gender.

It is also worth noting that the U.S. Army has a far larger percentage of African-American men than the comparable military age men demographic in Colorado does, because military aged African American men are charged with felonies and misdemeanors at a far higher rate than the general population in civilian life.

Likewise it is worth noting that 32.7% of the adult population of Colorado over age 25 have earned bachelor's degrees, while considerably fewer Army soldiers are or will, by age 25, will earn bachelor's degree. This is notable because college educated people are far less likely to commit crimes.

On the other hand, all but a tiny percentage of Army soldiers are high school graduates, most people of low intelligence are excluded by Army entrance exams, so the Army excludes about a quarter of the people in its demographic who are most crime prone, and unlike the civilian population, the Army has almost no ex-felons, as felons are almost never accepted for military service and persons convicted of the military equivalent of felonies or serious misdemeanors are routinely discharged from the military, so it doesn't have to worry about recidivism. Also, while the Army isn't particularly aggressive about screening for mental illness, it is more thorough than, for example, the civilian gun purchase screening process and the 24 hour a day observation by colleagues that the Army involves and a certain percentage of wash out of soldiers, particularly in basis training, probably screens out a quite high percentage of soldiers with mental illnesses that could pose a danger to their colleagues or themselves.

The Army also has no one who is unemployed, no one who is so poor that he can't obtain the basic necessities of life (a small percentage of junior enlisted men with families are technically in poverty, but non-monetary benefits and food stamps largely bridge this gap), and no one who lacks health insurance for himself and his family. The Army doesn't like to call it mental health treatment, but Army bases have family education, support groups and chaplain services for every soldier and their families.

In short, while Army discipline is one possible explanation for low crime rates in the military, the statistics can also be read to make a convincing case that 95% or more of crime is driven by some combination of dire economic circumstances and the percentage of the population who are at high risk of committing crimes because they have dropped out of high school, have low intelligence, or have been convicted of crimes in the past.

Also, while the statistics above don't show it, and I don't have sources at hand as I write this, I have previously seen data that show that marginal soldiers, who scored at the bottom end of Army entrance exams, or were admitted despite a lack of high school education, through waivers for example, have much higher rates of court martial, wash out and other military discipline than other soldiers.

Finally, of course, this analysis is a major blow to the theory that race itself is an important cause of crime rates, as opposed to being a mere marker for other circumstances. A young black adult man with no college education in the Army is very unlikely to commit a crime, compared to a young black adult man who is not in the Army. Part of this is due to the screening effects of Army entrance exams and requirements, and the purging of those with prior criminal records from the system, I have not seen any studies (although I suspect some exist) that look at crime rates for young black men after controlling for the kind of factors that the Army screens for in its admission process. But, the economic security and constant employment associated with Army life may also be a major factor. It is also possible that the screening process in the military and low crime rate of soldiers are major factors that reduce racism within the Army compared to civilian life, which in turn may make the military justice process less prone to racial biases.

And, as the military is an armed society, it is worth mentioning that it is a good example of the "guns don't kill, people kill" slogan of the NRA, although this doesn't mean that the NRA is right as a policy matter, because potential gun owners in civilian life aren't screened nearly as tightly as prospective members of the Army are screened. Moreover, since civilian life is not so tightly controlled, preventing guns from passing from people who are suitably safe gun owners to those who are not, whether through gifts, or non-commercial sales, or theft, is a far more difficult proposition. It is easier to keep guns monitored by a military quartermaster out of the hand of criminals, than it is to do so for guns in millions of private households of people who have strong 4th Amendment protections from search and seizure.

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