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Military Crimes Punishable by Death

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | Jul 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

Only the most serious military crimes are punishable by death, and there are just over a dozen offenses that fit the bill. For the curious, the cautious, and the fearful, we've listed all of the applicable offenses below. However, although the death penalty is a possible punishment for these crimes, it is worth noting that current members of the armed forces are highly unlikely to be executed. In fact, the last military execution was in 1961, over 50 years ago! Despite the negligible likelihood of such a punishment, the military crimes punishable by death are still important to know . . .

Military Crimes Punishable by Death

As dictated by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there are 14 military crimes punishable by death. The first 10 can be subject to capital punishment at any time:

  • Mutiny (an open rebellion against lawful authorities, typically officers) and Sedition (actions or speech that incites others to rebel against the established order)
  • Misbehavior before the enemy (this can include running away, abandoning one's unit, cowardice, quitting one's duty to plunder and pillage, and more)
  • Subordinate compelling surrender (compelling or attempting to compel a commander to give military property to the enemy or to abandon it)
  • Improper use of countersign (disclosing a signal or password meant for a soldier on guard to someone not authorized to receive it)
  • Forcing a safeguard (to perform an act that violates the protection of a safeguard)
  • Aiding the enemy (aiding or attempting to aid the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, etc.)
  • Espionage (spying or using spies)
  • Improper hazarding of vessel (willfully or negligently putting a vessel at risk)
  • Murder (the killing of a human being, including premeditated murder and felony murder)
  • Rape (forcing another person to have sexual intercourse against their will)

In addition to those ten, there are four crimes that can carry a death sentence, but only if the crime is committed during a time of war. Those are:

  • Desertion (abandoning one's duty or post without permission and with the intention of not returning)
  • Assaulting or willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer
  • Lurking as a spy or acting as a spy
  • Misbehavior of a sentinel or lookout (including getting drunk, sleeping, etc.)

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Despite the variety of crimes listed here, you may be surprised to learn that of the 160 members of the armed forces that were executed between 1942 and 1961 (when the last execution occurred), about two-thirds were executed for murder and one-third were executed for rape. The only outlier is Eddie Slovik, who was court-martialed and executed for desertion at the end of WWII. So not only is it extremely unlikely that a current member of the armed forces would be executed, but it would also be extremely unusual for anyone who committed a crime other than murder or rape to be executed.

Whether you've been accused of a minor wrongdoing or a serious military crime (perhaps even one that is punishable by death), contact the top-quality military lawyers at Newsom & Gapasin for help. Our experienced and aggressive law firm focuses on winning tough cases, some of which have been reported on by national media outlets like CNN, Fox News, Time, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. For more information, please give us a call at 1-(888) 919-8265 , send an e-mail to [email protected], or click here to contact us online. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Ernesto Gapasin



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