Military Jury System Needs Safeguards Found in Civilian Federal Courts

FPCD-76-48: Published: Jun 6, 1977. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 1977.

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The convening authority has broad authority in the military jury selection process. This jury system is in sharp contrast to the civilian federal court system, which guarantees the accused a trial by a jury randomly selected from a cross section of the community. The potential for abuse is clearly seen in the power of the convening authority to select jurors, in combination with the low number of jurors needed to convict.

Several defense counsels interviewed believed that jurors drawn from the higher grades may be more severe on the accused. In 244 cases reviewed, 82 percent of defense counsels' peremptory challenges were used to remove higher-grade officers from the juries. Sixty-four military officers at all echelons were interviewed about jury selection, and about 80 percent of those expressing an opinion believed some form of random selection should be implemented. These respondents were convening authorities, commanders, and legal personnel. In another opinion survey at Fort Riley, Kansas, 68 percent of the 456 respondents favored change to random selection, and the majority of the respondents were from the ranks selected by convening authorities to serve as jurors. About 7,150 of the 49,300 military people tried by military courts in fiscal years 1975 and 1976 were tried by jury. Many accused are advised by their defense counsel as to their choice of type of trial. Many times a defense counsel will advise trial by judge when his own workload is heavy.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should require random selection of military jurors from a pool made up of qualified jurors representing a cross section of the military community. Essential personnel should be excluded from juror eligibility. This change would require the establishment of juror eligibility criteria and the designation of responsibility for the selection process. Article 25 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice should be amended to either require the President to implement these changes within a specified time or to statutorily establish a random selection procedure based on specific juror eligibility criteria and to designate who should be responsible for the random selection process. Congress should reexamine whether the minimum size of juries is large enough for general and special court martial, greater consistency and stability in jury size is needed, the number of peremptory challenges should more closely conform with federal and state practices, military juries should be used to impose sentences, or the convening authority should be closely involved in the judicial proceedings of the accused.


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