Kinsella v. United States ex rel. Singleton

PETITIONER: Nina Kinsella
RESPONDENT: United States ex rel. Singleton
LOCATION: Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: State trial court

CITATION: 361 US 234 (1960)
ARGUED: Oct 22, 1959
DECIDED: Jan 18, 1960
GRANTED: Feb 24, 1959

Frederick Bernays Wiener - for the appellee
Harold H. Greene - for the appellant

Facts of the case

Specialist Second Class James W. Dial of the United States Army and his wife, Joanna Dial, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of their one-year-old child while stationed in Germany. James Dial was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to three years in prison, and dishonorably discharged. His wife was not an active member of the military, but because she was a dependent of an active military member, she was tried in military court in Germany. She moved to challenge the jurisdiction of the military court over her case, but the motion was denied. She pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

Mrs. Dial's mother, Alberta Singleton, filed a writ of habeas corpus on her daughter's behalf and argued that civilian dependents of military personnel cannot be tried in a military court. The circuit court judge stated he did not want to grant the writ of habeas corpus but was bound by the Supreme Court case Reid v. Covert, in which the Court held that non-military personnel cannot be court martialed for capital offenses. Nina Kinsella, the warden where Mrs. Dial was serving her time, appealed the writ and argued that the defendant in Reid v. Covert was on trial for a capital offense, whereas Mrs. Dial was on a trial for a non-capital offense. Therefore, the court was not bound by that case.


Do military courts have jurisdiction over civilian dependents of military personnel?

Media for Kinsella v. United States ex rel. Singleton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 22, 1959 in Kinsella v. United States ex rel. Singleton

Earl Warren:

Number 22, Kinsella, Warden, Appellant, versus United States on the Relation of Singleton.

Mr. Greene, you may proceed.

Harold H. Greene:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is an appeal from the judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in which the Court granted the writ of habeas corpus to the appellee and declared Article 2(11) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice unconstitutional in so far as it applies to civilian dependents versus accompanying the armed forces who are convicted or tried for noncapital offenses.

The appellee was the wife of the soldier stationed in Germany.

In May of 1957, both the appellee and her husband were accused and charged under the Uniform Code with unpremeditated murder in violation of Article 118(2) of that code.

In two specifications, it was alleged that the appellee and her husband killed their one-year-old son.

Subsequently, the charge was reduced from unpremeditated murder to manslaughter in violation of Article 119 of the Uniform Code.

And the appellee -- both the appellee and her husband pleaded guilty to that charge.

The appellee did, at the time of the trial, object to the jurisdiction of the Court on the ground that she was a civilian and therefore not subject constitutionally to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

This objection was overruled and pursuant to the plea of guilty that both the appellee and her husband were found guilty and the appellee was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of three years.

The judgment and the sentence were approved by the convening authority and by the Board of Review and ultimately by the Court of Military Appeals.

A habeas corpus petition was filed in the Southern District of West Virginia where the appellee was incarcerated and the Court held, as I stated, that Article 2(11) was unconstitutional as applied.

Now this case, of course is like the case – like the two cases before this Court in Covert and Krueger in that involved the dependents, persons accompanying the armed forces except for this fact that here a noncapital rather than the capital offense is involved.

And the problem here is whether this difference, this distinction should make for a difference in the result.

The problem can really be broken down in two questions first, where the capital and noncapital distinction can be relevant at all for jurisdictional purposes, and secondly, if it can be relevant whether it should be decisive to the -- to the outcome of the case, in other words, whether the result here should be different in the result that was reached in Covert.

On the first issue, it's argued by the appellee that jurisdiction is a matter of fixed content which cannot, in any event, be varied depending on the gravity of the offense.

Well, that may well be true as a general matter, although it isn't entirely in all cases.

For example, the military for many years from 1863 to 1916 had jurisdiction over common law offenses other than capital offenses, did not -- did not have jurisdiction over capital offenses even the time of war until 1916.

It certainly is true in this situation and that is for these reasons.

The problem of course here is a constitutional one.

Now, the capital and noncapital distinction has relevance and has been held by the Court to have relevance in other types of constitutional cases and I'm specifically I'm referring to due process cases.

In our view, the problem that is here involved is essentially similar to a due process type of problem, and the techniques and the approach of the due process determination should be used and this arises essentially out of the fact that the offense was committed overseas outside of the jurisdiction of the United States proper.

Now, we recognize that In re Ross and the Insular Cases which this Court discussed at length both in the first Covert opinion and in the second Covert case, cannot be read to put the proposition that the Constitution cannot in any event have any application abroad.

But I think those cases do stand for the proposition that the circumstances of a particular case, the practicalities and the necessities do have relevance in determining whether any particular power, any particular provision does apply when the problem arises outside of the United States proper.

For example, in the Ross case itself it was deemed relevant that the -- it was -- it appeared necessary for the protection of Americans of Counselor Courts be established.

I'm not saying at the Ross case without more just because this was held to be true in the Ross case that therefore we could establish Counselor Courts or similar type of Courts in this situation, but it does stand for the proposition and -- as far as we can determine and has not been overruled, it does stand for the proposition that in particular circumstances, various factors such as practicalities and necessities do have a bearing on the scope and the breadth of various constitutional provisions and policies.

The same would be true of the Insular Cases.

The Court there held in these various cases that -- that, for example, jury trials need not be provided in Criminal Cases in the Philippines or in Hawaii and Puerto Rico and so on because it was said that the traditions and institutions in those territories didn't lend themselves to that type of procedural device.

And again, while we're not arguing if this has to be carried over as such into these cases, it does show that the approach is essentially one of determining each situation on its particular facts and on the circumstances as they arise.