Wade v. Hunter/Dissent Murphy

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

336 U.S. 684

Wade  v.  Hunter

 Argued: March 7, 1949. --- Decided: April 25, 1949

Mr. Justice MURPHY, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE agree, dissenting.

I agree with the court below that in the military courts, as in the civil, jeopardy within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment attaches when the court begins the hearing of evidence. I agree also that a valid charge was pending before the first court-martial with which we are now concerned, and that the court had jurisdiction of the subject-matter and of the person of the petitioner.

In the first court-martial evidence was introduced; in fact, both sides had completed the presentation of their cases and had submitted oral argument, and the court had closed to consider its decision. The court was later opened on its own motion, for the purpose of hearing the testimony of three named witnesses, who were expected to shed light on the question of identification.

The Commanding General of the unit comprising petitioner and the court-martial that was trying him withdrew the charges and dissolved the court-martial, and transmitted the papers to the Commanding General of the Third Army, 'with a recommendation of trial by eneral court-martial.' They were subsequently transferred to the Commanding General of the Fifteenth Army, who referred the case for trial by general court-martial. Petitioner was tried and convicted, after the court-martial had overruled a plea of former jeopardy based on the prior proceeding. The Commanding General, Fifteenth Army, on the recommendation of his Staff Judge Advocate, approved the finding of guilty and reduced the period of confinement from life to twenty years. The case was assigned for review to Board of Review No. 4, consisting of three Judge Advocates in the Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General with the European Theater. This Board, sitting in Paris, close to the scene of military operations, filed a unanimous opinion to the effect that the plea in bar should have been sustained [1] and that consequently the record of trial was legally insufficient to support the findings and sentence. The Assistant Judge Advocate General filed a dissenting opinion, and the sentence was confirmed by the Commanding General, European Theater. In the habeas corpus proceedings in the United States, the District Court agreed with the Board of Review that the plea of double jeopardy should have been sustained. The Court of Appeals reversed, one judge dissenting.

There is no doubt that Wade was placed in jeopardy by his first trial. This Court now holds that the decision of his Commanding Officer, assessing the tactical military situation, is sufficient to deprive him of his right under the Constitution to be free from being twice subjected to trial for the same offense. With this reading of the Constitution I cannot agree. The harassment to the defendant from being repeatedly tried is not less because the army is advancing. The guarantee of the Constitution against double jeopardy is not to be eroded away by a tide of plausible-appearing exceptions. The command of the Fifth Amendment does not allow temporizing with the basic rights it declares. Adaptations of military justice to the exigencies of tactical situations is the prerogative of the commander in the field, but the price of such expediency is compliance with the Constitution. I would reverse the judgment below.


^1  The opinion of the Board of Review reads in part as follows: 'We see nothing which renders the absence of witnesses, as shown by the record of trial in this case, an emergent situation in exception to the rule in the Federal courts. Their witnesses may lie beyond the reach of process, if process issues witnesses may not respond, oral promises to appear may not be kept, and they may become ill during trial; but such difficulties in proof are not grounds for a termination of trial and a second prosecution. Imperious necessity means a sudden and overwhelming emergency, uncontrollable and unforeseeable, infecting the judicial process and rendering a fair and impartial trial impossible. It does not mean expediency.' Transcript of Record, p. 75.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).