Capital punishment by the United States military

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty under the U.S. military criminal justice system.

Reinstatement of the military death penalty[edit]

Nidal Hasan when he was still in the military.

The U.S. Armed Forces Court of Appeals ruled in 1983 that the military death penalty was unconstitutional, and after new standards intended to rectify the Armed Forces Court of Appeals' objections, the military death penalty was reinstated by an executive order of President Ronald Reagan the following year.[1]

On 28 July 2008, President George W. Bush approved the execution of Former United States Army Private Ronald A. Gray, who had been convicted in April 1988 of multiple murders and rapes. A month later, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren set an execution date of 10 December 2008 and ordered that Gray be put to death by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute. The military publicly released Gray's execution date on 20 November 2008. On 26 November, however, Gray was granted a stay of execution by federal judge Rogers.[2] In December 2016, a Kansas federal judge lifted Gray's stay, moving Gray one step closer to becoming the U.S. military's first death sentence carried out since 1961.[3]

The U.S. Military currently has four inmates on death row, the most recent being Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 people and injured 32 others during the 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting.[citation needed]

Capital crimes[edit]

Currently, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 14 offenses are punishable by death. Under the following sections of the UCMJ, the death penalty can be imposed at any time:

Another four provisions of the UCMJ carry a death sentence only if the crime is committed during times of war:

  • 85 – Desertion
  • 90 – Assaulting or willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer
  • 106 – Lurking as a spy or acting as a spy
  • 113 – Misbehavior of a sentinel or lookout

Legal process[edit]

United States Disciplinary Barracks houses men on military death row
All female prisoners in the DOD serve time at Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar (therefore female military service members under death sentence would await execution here).

Capital cases are tried in courts-martial before a panel of at least 12 military members. If the defendant is an enlisted service member, he or she may opt for at least one-third of the panel to also be of enlisted rank. All members of the panel must outrank the accused. The defendant cannot plead guilty to the charges. A two-thirds majority is enough for conviction, but unanimity is required to issue a death sentence during the penalty phase of the proceeding.

All death sentences are automatically appealed, first to the Court of Criminal Appeals for the military service concerned, then to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The sentence must be personally confirmed by the President of the United States.

Military executions would be conducted under regulations issued on 17 January 2006,[5] and would ordinarily take place at the Special Housing Unit of the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, although alternative locations are possible (such as the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, Indiana, where federal civilian death-row inmates are housed and executed). Of four convicted servicemen awaiting execution, three are confined at the Special Housing Unit and one at Camp Lejeune, all of whom have been convicted of murder.

Until 1961--the last military execution to date--hanging was the sole and official method. Later the military introduced the electric chair, which was never used.[6] Currently, lethal injection is the only method.[1]

Previous use[edit]

First World War[edit]

The United States Army executed 36 soldiers during the First World War by hanging between 5 November 1917 and 20 June 1919. Eleven of these hangings were performed in France while the remaining 25 were carried out in the continental United States.[7][8][9]

1942 - 1961[edit]

The military executed 160 soldiers and other members of the armed forces between 1942-61 (these figures do not include German prisoners of war, war criminals, spies and saboteurs executed by U.S. military authorities between 1942-51).

There have been no military executions since 1961, although the death penalty is still a possible punishment for several crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Of these executions, 157 were carried out by the United States Army, with the United States Air Force conducting the three remaining executions, one in 1950 and two in 1954; the U.S. Navy has not executed anyone since 1849.

Of the total, 21 were executed for rape and murder, 85 for murder, and 53 for rape, with Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik being executed in 1945 by firing squad for desertion.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The U.S. Military Death Penalty, Death Penalty Information Center
  2. ^ "Military sets date for first execution since 1961". Associated Press. November 20, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Judge Lifts Execution Stay for Ex-Soldier in Military Prison". December 28, 2016. 
  4. ^ Unlike the other capital offenses under the UCMJ, the text of Article 120 does not explicitly state that the death penalty is available; such language was removed in a 2007 revision. However, the revision stated that the maximum penalty remained death until the President specified otherwise. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, PL 109–163, January 6, 2006, 119 Stat 3136, §552(b). Subsequent Manuals for Courts Martial, issued under the President's authority, continue to describe the maximum penalty for rape as death. See Manual for Courts-Martial (2012) Appendix 28(f)(1).
  5. ^ regulations
  6. ^ Baldor, Lolita C. (June 29, 2006). "Iraq murder charges raise specter of rarely used military death sentence". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2010-01-30. 
  7. ^ See Houston Riot of 1917
  8. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel July 5, 1918
  9. ^ Establishment of Military Justice – Proposed Amendment of the Articles of War, Thursday September 25, 1919. United States Senate, Subcommittee on Militarz Affairs, Washington, D. C. (
  10. ^ "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. p. 223. 

External links[edit]