Military Statute of Limitations

Military Statute of Limitations

September 6, 2020

This article, which is meant as a general overview of a complicated topic, covers the military statute of limitations for Courts-Martial.

The term statute of limitations refers to the length of time that can pass after the commission of an offense during which the military is allowed to punish a Soldier at a Court-Martial.  For trial by Court-Martial, the general military statute of limitations is five years (exceptions explained below).  The time period starts from the day the offense is committed and stops the day that the Summary Court-Martial Convening Authority (usually the Battalion Commander) signs, or doesn't sign, any charge sheet. Any period of AWOL or period of "fleeing justice" is excluded when counting this time period.

For any Soldier charged with AWOL/missing movement during a time of war, murder, rape, sexual assault, rape/sexual assault of a child, or with any other offense punishable by death, there is no statute of limitations.   This means that for as long as the military has jurisdiction over a Soldier, he/she can be forced to face a Court-Martial for any of these offenses.

Another notable exception is for child abuse offenses.  A Soldier can be forced to face a Court-Martial for these offenses for the life of the child, or 10 years, whichever is a longer period of time. For most offenses, a child is considered anyone under the age of 16.

There are some other more complicated exceptions that should be discussed at length with a military lawyer.  For example, offenses that were committed before certain updates to the UCMJ may have a different statute of limitations.  The UCMJ has undergone several updates in this area. The military statute of limitations that applies to a specific offense depends on what the UCMJ said at the time the offense was committed.  For example, the statute of limitations for sexual assault currently does not exist; however, not that long ago, there was one.  Furthermore, this is a developing area of law, evident by the Supreme Court's recent decision; more information is available at this link.

Acts committed during a time of war can also have a different statute of limitations, if certain conditions are met.

This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry

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