When it comes to understanding the complexities of the United States government, few topics can be more daunting than the laws that govern it. One such law that has been a source of much debate throughout the years is the possibility of the President of the United States being court-martialed. While the legalities of this situation can be difficult to understand, a deep dive into the laws can provide a more comprehensive picture. To understand the legal requirements and implications of such a situation, it is important to examine both the federal laws and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which dictate the rights and responsibilities of all members of the military, including the Commander-in-Chief. This article will explore the details of the laws and what they mean for the possibility of the President being court-martialed.
Can The President Of The United States Be Court Martialed?
No, the President of the United States cannot be court-martialed. This is because the President is the Commander-in-Chief of all military forces and is considered to be a civilian leader. As such, they are not subject to military law and cannot be court-martialed. The President of the United States cannot be court-martialed but can be impeached or face criminal charges if they are found guilty of certain crimes.
Overview Of The Federal Laws
- The first thing to understand when discussing the possibility of the President being court-martialed is the actual laws that govern the situation. The United States Code is an extensive collection of federal laws that dictate how all government agencies, including those headed by the President, must operate. Title 18 of this code deals with criminal offenses and contains a wide range of provisions regarding crimes related to public corruption, bribery, espionage, and more.
- Section 1751 is one such provision that could potentially apply in a court martial case against the President. This section outlines the crime of treason and defines it as any act that “levies war” against the United States or “adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere.” This law also states that anyone who commits treason shall be punished by death if they are convicted by a jury trial or if they plead guilty in open court.
- While this may seem like a clear-cut case for treasonous behavior by the Commander-in-Chief, there are several key details to understand. For example, the law does not define what it means to “levy war” against the United States or “adhere to an enemy.” This leaves open the possibility of a court martial case based on treason being dismissed due to a lack of evidence that the accused actively engaged in such actions.
- Section 2385 is another important law to consider. This provision outlines the crime of “advocating the overthrow of Government” and states that anyone who does so shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 20 years.
- While this may seem to be a clear-cut case for the President, there are several key details to understand as well. For example, the law does not define what it means by “advocating overthrow.” This leaves open the possibility of a court martial case based on this charge being dismissed due to a lack of evidence that the accused actively engaged in such actions.
Overview Of The Uniform Code Of Military Justice
- The Uniform Code of Military Justice is the system of laws that governs all members of the military. It’s important to note that the President is not considered a member of the military, so the UCMJ would not be applied to him. However, the UCMJ does dictate the rights and responsibilities of all military members and would be used to govern the trial of the President.
- The UCMJ has broken down into three parts: the general court-martial section, the special court-martial section, and the summary court-martial section. The general court-martial section outlines the rights of the accused and the conduct of the trial.
- The special court-martial section outlines the different types of crimes and punishments. The summary court-martial section provides instructions for cases that do not reach the level of a general or special court-martial.
What Are The Penalties Of Court Martial?
- The Constitution does not specify any particular penalties for the President being convicted of a “high crime or misdemeanor,” so this would be left to the court martial. The general court-martial section outlines the possible penalties for conviction. Those found guilty could be given one or more of the following: dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest rank, and confinement for life.
- The special court-martial section outlines additional penalties that could be given for specific crimes. Those found guilty of violating the UCMJ could be given one or more of the following: bad conduct discharge, dismissal, confinement, a fine, reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, or reduction in retirement benefits. The Constitution specifies that the President could only be removed from office if convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
- The UCMJ outlines the penalties for conviction of a crime at both the general and special court-martial levels. The general court-martial has three possible punishments: death, imprisonment, or dismissal from the military.
- The special court-martial has five possible punishments: confinement for more than six months, hard labor without confinement for more than six months, forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for more than six months, reduction in rank to any grade (with or without forfeiting all pay), and dismissal from the service.
What Are Some Examples Of Presidential Crimes?
- If the President was impeached for committing a crime that also violated an existing law (not one created by Congress), criminal charges could be brought against him. For example: if Donald Trump was caught on tape admitting to obstruction of justice, he could be tried for that. However, if the President was impeached for actions that were not criminal, the Constitution states that he “shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.” This means that while the President is immune from criminal prosecution while in office, Congress can still impeach him or her for his or her actions before taking office.
- The Constitution states that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them” There are two ways a president could commit treason: by waging war against the United States or by giving aid and comfort to enemies of the United States.
- In modern times, it is unlikely that a president would wage war against the US (the last time this happened was when Lincoln attempted to invade Richmond). That leaves giving aid and comfort to enemies of the US as an option.
- If a president gave aid and comfort to enemies of the US through bribery, intimidation, or threats, he could be charged with treason. However, the President’s power is also his or her greatest defense against any charges of treason. The President can pardon himself and grant amnesty to anyone else involved in the treason.
Examining The Historical Precedent For Court Martialing The President
- Very few Presidents have actually been court-martialed during their time in office. While allegations of misconduct have plagued many Presidents throughout history, only a few have been seriously considered for court martial.
- The most notable of these was President Andrew Johnson, who was accused of breaking the law by granting pardons that were supposed to be decided by the Senate. President Johnson was also accused of violating the terms of a Reconstruction Act that was intended to protect the rights of Southerners. Those who supported the court martialing of President Johnson believed that he had broken the law and was unfit to serve as President.
- They also argued that only a court martial could force the President to be held accountable for his actions. Those who opposed the idea argued that it would be inappropriate to court-martial the President. They believed that such a move would be an overreach of power by the legislative branch and would violate the President’s constitutional rights.
While the laws that govern court martialing the President are relatively clear, it is unclear how the courts would actually proceed with such a trial. A court-martial is controlled by the military, which reports to the Secretary of Defense. The courts that would be involved in such a trial would be controlled by the federal government, which reports to the President. This could create a conflict of interest and further complicate the situation.