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United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.PNG
Established 1951
Country United States armed forces
Location Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′46″N 77°01′06″W / 38.89611°N 77.01833°W / 38.89611; -77.01833Coordinates: 38°53′46″N 77°01′06″W / 38.89611°N 77.01833°W / 38.89611; -77.01833
Composition method Presidential nomination with confirmation by the Senate
Authorized by 10 U.S.C. §§ 941946 (U.C.M.J. Subchapter XII, Art. 141–146)
Judge term length 15 years
Number of positions Five
Chief Judge
Currently James E. Baker
Since 2000

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF – in case citations, C.A.A.F. – or USCAAF) is an Article I court that exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the United States armed forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The court is composed of five civilian judges appointed for 15-year terms by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. The court reviews decisions from the intermediate appellate courts of the services: the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.


Courts-martial are judicial proceedings conducted by the armed forces. The Continental Congress first authorized the use of courts-martial in 1775. From the time of the American Revolutionary War through the middle of the twentieth century, courts-martial were governed by the Articles of War and the Articles for the Government of the Navy. Congress's authority "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" is contained in the United States Constitution at Article I, Section 8.

Until 1920, court-martial convictions were reviewed either by a commander in the field or by the President, depending on the severity of the sentence or the rank of the accused. The absence of formal review received critical attention during World War I, and the Army created an internal legal review process for a limited number of cases. Following the war, in the Act of June 4, 1920, Congress required the Army to establish boards of review, consisting of three lawyers, to consider cases involving death, dismissal of an officer, an unsuspended dishonorable discharge, or confinement in a penitentiary, with limited exceptions. The legislation further required legal review of other cases in the Office of the Judge Advocate General.

The military justice system under the Articles of War and Articles for the Government of the Navy received significant attention during World War II and its immediate aftermath. During the war, in which over 16 million persons served in the American armed forces, the military services held over 1.7 million courts-martial. Many of these proceedings were conducted without lawyers acting as presiding officers or counsel. Studies conducted by the military departments and the civilian bar identified a variety of problems in the administration of military justice during the war, including the potential for improper command influence.


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces courthouse on E Street in Northwest Washington, DC.

By enacting the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1948, Congress enacted significant reforms to the Articles of War, including creation of a Judicial Council of three general officers to consider cases involving sentences of death, life imprisonment, or dismissal of an officer, as well as cases referred to the Council by a board of review or the judge advocate general. During the same period, Congress placed the departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the newly created Department of Defense. The first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, created a committee under the chairmanship of Professor Edmund Morgan to study the potential for unifying and revising the services' disparate military justice systems under a single code.

The committee recommended a unified system applicable to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The committee also recommended that qualified attorneys serve as presiding officers and counsel, subject to limited exceptions. Numerous other changes were proposed by the committee to enhance the rights of servicemen in the context of the disciplinary needs of the armed forces. The recommendations included creation of an independent civilian appellate court.

The committee's recommendations, as revised by Congress, became the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), enacted on May 5, 1950. Article 67 of the UCMJ established the Court of Military Appeals as a three-judge civilian court. The report of the House Armed Services Committee accompanying the legislation emphasized that the new court would be "completely removed from all military influence of persuasion." The legislation became effective on May 31, 1951. In 1968, Congress redesignated the court as the United States Court of Military Appeals.

In 1989, Congress enacted comprehensive legislation to enhance the effectiveness and stability of the court. The legislation increased the court's membership to five judges, consistent with the American Bar Association's Standards for Court Organization. In 1994, Congress gave the court its current designation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Jurisdiction and appellate review of courts-martial

Courthouse for the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Courts-martial are conducted under the UCMJ (10 U.S.C. §§ 801946, U.C.M.J. art. 1–146) and the Manual for Courts-Martial. If the trial results in a conviction, the case is then reviewed by the convening authority – the person who referred the case for trial by court-martial. The convening authority may approve the conviction of the court-martial, but also has the discretion to mitigate the findings and sentence.[1]

Beyond the review by the convening authority, court-martial cases may be appealed to two additional levels of judicial review. These are the Courts of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Intermediate review – Courts of Criminal Appeals

If the sentence, as approved by the convening authority, includes death, a bad-conduct discharge, a dishonorable discharge, dismissal of an officer, or confinement for one year or more, the case is reviewed by an intermediate court. There are four such courts—the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals. The Courts of Criminal Appeals review the cases for legal error, factual sufficiency, and sentence appropriateness. All other cases are subject to review by judge advocates under regulations issued by each service. After such review, the Judge Advocate General may refer a case to the appropriate Court of Criminal Appeals. The Courts of Criminal Appeals also have jurisdiction under Article 62 of the UCMJ to consider appeals by the United States of certain judicial rulings during trial. Review under Article 62 is limited to issues involving alleged legal errors.[1]

Final review – Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

The Court's primary jurisdictional statute is Article 67(a) of the UCMJ, which provides:

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces shall review the record in: 1) all cases in which the sentence, as affirmed by a Court of Criminal Appeals, extends to death; 2) all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals which the Judge Advocate General orders sent to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for review; and 3) all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals in which, upon petition of the accused and on good cause shown, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has granted a review.

Under Article 67(c), the Court's review is limited to issues of law. The Courts of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces also have jurisdiction to consider petitions for extraordinary relief under the All Writs Act (28 U.S.C. § 1651).[1]

Cases on the court's docket address a broad range of legal issues, including constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, ethics, administrative law, and national security law. The cases before the court may only be reviewed upon a granted petition for review (which occurs in 10 percent of cases), by certificate from an individual service Judge Advocate General, a sentence of death, a petition for extraordinary relief or a writ appeal petition. Statistics show that the court reviews approximately 10 percent of all court-martial convictions. In the year ending September 1, 2009, the court had 1,002 cumulative filings and disposed of 1,033 cases. Of these 1,033 cases, 46 were disposed of by signed or per curiam opinions and 987 were by memorandum or order.[2] (By comparison, the US Supreme Court issued 46 signed opinions in 2009.[3])

Supreme Court review

The Supreme Court of the United States has discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1259 to review cases under the UCMJ on writ of certiorari where the CAAF has conducted a mandatory review (death penalty and certified cases), granted discretionary review of a petition, or otherwise granted relief.[4] If the CAAF denies a petition for review or a writ appeal, consideration by the Supreme Court may be obtained only through collateral review (e.g., a writ of habeas corpus).[1] Since 2007, several bills have been introduced into Congress to expand the accessibility of service members to the Supreme Court.

Case citation

Bluebook citation form for the CAAF is provided in Table T.1 (C.A.A.F.), previously United States Court of Military Appeals (C.M.A.), of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds, 18th ed. 2005). The official reporters are Decisions of the United States Court of Military Appeals (C.M.A.) (1951–1975), Court Martial reports (C.M.R.) (1951–1975) and West's Military Justice Reporter (M.J.) (1975–date).


Since October 31, 1952, the Court has been located in Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C.. The United States Court of Military Appeals, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected in 1910, and was formerly the home of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The building was designed by Elliott Woods.[5]


The court has five judges, who are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. Judges serve fifteen-year terms. After their term, they must be either re-appointed or retire from the court. When hearing a case, all five judges sit as a panel.

Article 142 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that not more than three judges may be appointed to the court from the same political party, which is a common provision for Article I courts and administrative agencies, but is unlike Article III federal courts. Most military judges cannot ever become CAAF judges, because Article 142 limits CAAF judge positions to those who have not served for 20 years or more in the active military.

The judges regularly meet in conference to discuss recently argued cases. As a matter of custom, there is full discussion of each case followed by a tentative vote. If the chief judge is in the majority, the chief judge assigns the responsibility for drafting an opinion to a judge in the majority. If the chief judge is not in the majority, the most senior judge in the majority assigns the case. After an opinion is drafted, it is circulated to all judges, who have the opportunity to concur, comment, or submit a separate opinion. After the judges have had an opportunity to express their views in writing, the opinion is released to the parties and the public.[6]

Current composition of the court

As of 2015, the judges on the court are:

# Title Judge Duty station Born Term of service Appointed by
Active Chief Senior
18 Chief Judge James E. Baker Federal (VA) 1960 2000–present 2011–present Clinton
19 Circuit Judge Charles E. Erdmann Federal (MT) 1946 2002–present G.W. Bush
20 Circuit Judge Margaret A. Ryan Federal (VA) 1964 2006–present G.W. Bush
21 Circuit Judge Scott W. Stucky Federal (MD) 1948 2006–present G.W. Bush
22 Circuit Judge Kevin A. Ohlson Federal (DC) 2013–present Obama

List of former judges and current senior status judges

# Judge State Born–died Active service Chief Judge Senior status Appointed by Reason for
1 Quinn, Robert E.Robert E. Quinn RI 1894–1975 1951–1975 1951–1971 (none) Truman death
2 Latimer, George W.George W. Latimer UT 1901–1990 1951–1961 (none) (none) Truman term expired
3 Brosman, Paul WilliamPaul William Brosman FL 1899–1955 1951–1955 (none) (none) Truman death
4 Ferguson, Homer S.Homer S. Ferguson PA 1889–1982 1957–1971 (none) 1971–1976 Eisenhower retired
5 Kilday, Paul J.Paul J. Kilday TX 1900–1968 1961–1968 (none) (none) Kennedy death
6 Darden, William H.William H. Darden GA 1923– 1968–1973 1971–1973 1973–present Johnson
7 Duncan, Robert MortonRobert Morton Duncan OH 1927– 1971–1974 1973–1974 (none) Nixon resigned to join the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio
8 Cook, William HolmesWilliam Holmes Cook IL 1920–1999 1974–1984 (none) (none) Ford resigned
9 Fletcher, Jr., Albert B.Albert B. Fletcher, Jr. KS 1925–1998 1975–1985 1975–1980 (none) Ford assigned to disability due to medical complications
10 Perry, Matthew J.Matthew J. Perry SC 1921– 1976–1979 (none) (none) Ford resigned to join the District Court for South Carolina
11 Everett, Robinson O.Robinson O. Everett NC 1928–2009 1980–1992 1980–1990 1992–2009 Carter death
12 Cox III, Walter T.Walter T. Cox III SC 1942– 1984–2000 1995–1999 2000–present Reagan
13 Sullivan, Eugene R.Eugene R. Sullivan MO 1941– 1986–2002 1990–1995 2002–present Reagan
14 Crawford, Susan J.Susan J. Crawford MD 1947– 1991–2006 1999–2004 2006–present G.H.W. Bush
15 Gierke III, H. F.H. F. Gierke III ND 1943– 1991–2006 2004–2006 2006–present G.H.W. Bush
16 Wiss, Robert E.Robert E. Wiss IL 1929–1995 1992–1995 (none) (none) G.H.W. Bush death
17 Effron, Andrew S.Andrew S. Effron VA 1948– 1996–2011 2006–2011 2011—present Clinton

Chief Judges

Chief Judge
Robert E. Quinn 1951–1971
William H. Darden 1971–1973
Robert M. Duncan 1973–1974
Albert B. Fletcher, Jr. 1975–1980
Robinson O. Everett 1980–1990
Eugene R. Sullivan 1990–1995
Walter T. Cox III 1995–1999
Susan J. Crawford 1999–2004
H. F. Gierke III 2004–2006
Andrew S. Effron 2006–2011
James E. Baker 2011–present

The position of Chief Judge is rotated among the judges to the most senior judge who has not previously served as Chief Judge. The Chief Judge serves in that position for five years unless his or her term as a judge expires sooner. Prior to 1992, the Chief Judge was designated by the President from among the sitting judges.

Counsel in cases before the court

Each service Judge Advocate General has established separate appellate divisions to represent the government and the defense before the service Courts of Criminal Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and the Supreme Court of the United States regardless of indigency. A servicemember whose case is eligible for review is entitled to free representation by government-furnished counsel, and also may be represented by civilian counsel provided at the servicemember's own expense.[6]

When the court grants review, and in cases involving mandatory review, the parties are notified of the briefing requirements under the court's rules. In most cases, oral argument is scheduled following submission of briefs, but the court decides a number of cases without oral argument. The court notifies the parties and counsel of the oral argument date, and the oral argument schedule is posted on the court's website. In a typical case, each counsel is given 30 minutes to present argument, on behalf of their client, to the court. Unlike most civilian criminal jurisdictions in the United States, the military does not require that a defendant prove an inability to pay in order to receive defense counsel at government expense.[6] Counsel appearing before the court must be admitted to the Bar of the Court or obtain permission of the court to appear in a specific case. An application for membership in the court's bar may be obtained from the Court's website,, or by writing to the Clerk of the Court. Over 33,000 attorneys have been admitted to practice since the Court was established in 1951.[6]

Project Outreach and Judge Everett's public role

Most of the court's oral arguments are held at its courthouse in Washington, D.C. On occasion, as part of the court's judicial outreach program, the Court will hold arguments at law schools, military bases, and other public facilities. This practice, known as Project Outreach, was developed principally by Chief Judge Robinson O. Everett as part of a public awareness program to demonstrate the operation of a federal court of appeals and the military criminal justice system. Everett presided over an expansion of the Court's public-facing role during his association with the Court, including taking live telephone phone calls from C-SPAN viewers on a July 14, 1989, television program.[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Appellate Review, CAAF website (retrieved on October 13, 2008)
  2. CAAF Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Report
  3. SCOTUS Slip Opinions
  4. Supreme Court Appellate Jurisdiction Over Military Court Cases by Anna C. Henning, Congressional Research Service, October 6, 2008
  5. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Practice & Procedure Before the Court, CAAF website (retrieved on October 13, 2008)

External links

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