Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a military offense, “punishable by death, may be tried and punished at any time without limitation,” 10 U.S.C. 843(a). Other military offenses are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Three military service members, each convicted of rape at a time when the UCMJ provided that rape could be “punished by death” argued that the five-year limitations period barred their prosecutions because the Supreme Court held in 1977 (Coker v. Georgia) that the Eighth Amendment forbids a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman.Reversing the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Supreme Court held that the prosecutions were timely. The UCMJ is a uniform code. The most natural place to determine whether rape was “punishable by death” within the meaning of section 843(a) is section 920’s directive that rape could be “punished by death,” regardless of the UCMJ’s separate prohibition on “cruel or unusual punishment.” If “punishable by death” requires consideration of all applicable law, the deadline for filing rape charges would be unclear. That deadline would depend on an unresolved constitutional question about Coker’s application to military prosecutions, on "evolving standards of decency” under the Eighth Amendment, and on whether UCMJ section 855 independently prohibits a death sentence for rape. The ends served by statutes of limitations differ from those served by the Eighth Amendment or UCMJ 855. Factors legislators may find important in setting a limitations period—such as the difficulty of gathering evidence and mounting a prosecution—play no part in an Eighth Amendment analysis. View "United States v. Briggs" on Justia Law

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Manufacturers produced equipment for three Navy ships. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended, but the manufacturers did not always incorporate the asbestos into their products, so the Navy later added the asbestos. Two Navy veterans, exposed to asbestos on the ships, developed cancer. They sued the manufacturers. The manufacturers argued that they should not be liable for harms caused by later-added third-party parts.The Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit in rejecting summary judgment for the manufacturers. The Court adopted a rule between the “foreseeability” approach and the “bare-metal defense,” that is "especially appropriate in the context of maritime law, which has always recognized a ‘special solicitude for the welfare’ of sailors." Requiring a warning in these circumstances will not impose a significant burden on manufacturers, who already have a duty to warn of the dangers of their own products. A manufacturer must provide a warning only when it knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses and has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger. The rule applies only if the manufacturer directs that the part be incorporated; the manufacturer makes the product with a part that the manufacturer knows will require replacement with a similar part; or a product would be useless without the part. View "Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. DeVries" on Justia Law