Military justice caseloads continue to shrink. As we noted here, from FY 2004 to FY 2009, DOD experienced a 33% drop in the number of GCMs and SPCMs tried — from 4,384 to 2,919. The Army saw a 12% reduction in the number of GCMs and SPCMs tried. The Air Force had a 26.4% reduction. The reduction in the Department of the Navy was 49%. Meanwhile, our non-DOD sister service, the Coast Guard, experienced a 21% drop from 39 to 31.
My guess is that in the long-run, the continued decline in court-martial caseload may be the most important military justice story of the year. (Yes, at the contentious CAAFlog online confab, I voted for this to be the #1 story and was hooted down by my colleagues. I think the No Man’s vote for #1 had to do with the Apprendi implications of the expansion of court-martial jurisdiction over civilians accompanying the military in contingency operations.) As demonstrated by the .5% reduction in the planned 2011 military pay raise and the two-year freeze for most federal civil servants’ pay, we are entering a period of budget austerity. How long will it be before the budgeteers notice the decline in military justice caseload and start asking hard questions about whether there’s been a commensurate decline in military justice expenditures?
This strikes me as a good time for the military justice community to give some serious thought to how to perform its mission more efficiently and at lower cost. The military justice community has been notoriously resistant to change. But we may be entering an era where those who don’t streamline voluntarily will have a cleaver do the streamlining for them.
Probably the main way to promote military justice efficiency is to increase jointness. Here are just a few ideas, some of them proposed previously by CAAFlog readers, concerning how to operate the military justice system at less cost than we do today:
(1) Make the military trial judiciary a joint command. A court-martial of an Airman at Kadena Air Force Base should be presided over by the Marine Corps judge stationed at Camp Foster. A court-martial of a Sailor at Naval Air Station Pensacola should by presided over the Air Force judge stationed at Eglin Air Force Base.
(2) Create a single joint stovepipe trial defense service to provide a trial defense counsel for each court-martial held in any branch of the military.
(3) Consolidate or eliminate the CCAs. With the reduced number of courts-martial and commensurate reduction in military appellate caseloads, there is no need for five separate military appellate courts. This is especially the case now, when construction is planned or underway for new courtrooms for at least two of the four CCAs. At the very least, the four CCAs should be consolidated into a single court. Better yet, they should be eliminated and CAAF should be revamped to function in the same manner as one of the geographic federal courts of appeals hearing criminal cases from within its circuit.
(4) Consolidate the four appellate defense divisions into one and consolidate the four appellate government divisions into one.
I invite our readers to propose other measures to streamline the military justice system.