The Gray Area In Military Prosecutions: What To Believe

18 March 2019
 Categories: Government & Politics, Blog


The movies are full of military-themed shows where soldiers and officers are prosecuted for this or that. Maybe it is war crimes. Maybe it is treason. Maybe it is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone prosecuted in the movies is portrayed this way or that. The reason for movies taking both sides is that military courts do often have gray areas. It is difficult to believe anything that is said, as the following reasons will illustrate. If you are ever called to be part of a military criminal hearing, you should know more about the gray area of military justice and why it is difficult to believe what is said.

The Gray Area of Military Justice

Military law is very different than civilian law. That is because military personnel are called to do things civilians will never have to do, including killing other people. There are difficulties, as well, with following commanding officers' orders versus not following commanding officers' orders. Choosing to do what you know is right versus what the C.O. tells you to do and you know is wrong is where legality gets fuzzy. (If you have any doubt, just look up the recent military case of Lt. Clint Lorance and the matters surrounding his case.)

That does not even begin to cover the issues of military action on home soil or something as typical as picking a bar fight with a civilian. Then things really start to get fuzzy because usually military law trumps civilian law in these situations, even though justice may be sought for the civilians involved. Choosing a side to support becomes a personal matter of belief—who is really right versus who is legally right. 

Witnesses and Immunity as Part of the Gray Area of Military Justice

Whether there is one witness in a military case or a whole platoon, the problem with getting witnesses to testify is immunity. Because the others were following orders, it makes them just as wrong, even though they were just being good soldiers. If they had not followed orders, they would have been court-martialed.

Unfortunately, following orders is not always a steadfast "get out of jail free" card, which is why these witnesses request immunity before testifying. Sadly, it also makes them targets of the defense lawyers, who will always claim that the immune witnesses do not make good witnesses when these witnesses were trying to get out of the same trouble as the accused themselves. It is just up to jury members to decide who is right and who is very wrong in cases like these. 

To learn more about this gray area, read up on campaigns such as the "Support Lt Clint Lorance" campaign.