Solorio v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Ronald Dunn’s Ranch

DOCKET NO.: 85-1581
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

CITATION: 483 US 435 (1987)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1987

Charles Fried - on behalf of the respondent
Eugene R. Fidell - as amicus curiae supporting petitioner
Ribert W. Bruce, Jr. - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Solorio v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 1987 in Solorio v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments first this morning in No. 85-1581, Solorio against the United States.

Mr. Bruce, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Ribert W. Bruce, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question presented in this case is whether the offenses committed by the petitioner, off base and off duty in Juno, Alaska, are subject to court martial jurisdiction.

The Court of Military Appeals decision in this case should be reversed for two reasons, which I'd like to discuss.

First, the facts of this case do not establish a service connection.

Second, the Court of Military Appeals found that there was court martial jurisdiction in this case because it employed an erroneous and deficient service connection test.

This Court has recognized that the special needs of the military justify a unique military justice system.

But it has also recognized that court martial jurisdiction should be limited to the least possible power adequate to the end proposed.

In this Court's O'Callahan and Relford decisions it has limited court martial jurisdiction by requiring that a service connection be established before a service member can be tried for civilian type offenses committed off base.

This purpose of this service connection requirement is to balance the interests of the service member in the greater protections of a civilian trial against the military interest in trying the case at a court martial.

The criteria--

Harry A. Blackmun:

We're speaking only now of the alleged Alaska offense, are we not?

Ribert W. Bruce, Jr.:

--That's correct, Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Not the New York ones.

Ribert W. Bruce, Jr.:

Not the New York offense.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Had the Alaska authorities indicated any interest in prosecution?

Ribert W. Bruce, Jr.:

The Alaska... the Alaska authorities have given a tentative deferral of the prosecution to the Coast Guard.

But there were also indications of interest on the part of Alaska in the record.

In the record it indicated that Alaska was continuing to investigate allegations of charges against others daughters of civilians in the community there.

And there was also a message from the Coast Guard that indicated that the State of Alaska had previously, and fairly recently previously, prosecuted Coast Guardsmen for similar offenses.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But these particular victims and their fathers are no longer there?

Ribert W. Bruce, Jr.:

That's correct, Justice Blackmun.

The criteria that are relevant to the balancing test have been limited so that the infinite permutations of possibly relevant factors will not cause confusion about the proper limits of court martial jurisdiction.

And the outcome of the balancing tests depends on the facts in each case.

In this case there's no military interest that outweighs the petitioner's interest in the greater protections of a civilian trial.

Now the limits on court martial jurisdiction are not based solely on the facts, the fact that court martials do not give service members all of the protections they would receive in a civilian trial.

The military justice system was created to serve a fundamentally different purpose than the purpose of civilian courts.

The military justice system is a tool for maintaining discipline in the military.

And another reason for limiting court martial jurisdiction is the historic disapproval of trying ordinary crimes at court martial.