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Reid v. Covert

Significance

The Court ruled that a section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, regarding trials for civilians who commit crimes abroad, was constitutional. The issue, however was not definitively settled here, as the Court reheard the case the following year.

After World War II, America took on new responsibilities as a world power. By the mid-1950s, U.S. armed forces were stationed in more than 60 countries, and spouses and children often accompanied military personnel on their foreign assignments. By executive order, the United States had agreements with some countries, such as England and Japan, that if these civilian relatives committed a crime, they would be tried in American court-martials, not the native courts.

The military's authority to try civilians abroad rested in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The UCMJ, enacted in 1950, codified the judicial system for all branches of the military. Article 2 (11) of the code stated relatives accompanying armed forces personnel abroad were subject to trial in a court-martial for any crimes they committed outside the continental United States. This section of the UCMJ was at the heart of Reid v. Covert.

Clarice Covert was married to Edward Covert, a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force stationed in England. Mrs. Covert murdered her husband on the air base and was tried by a court-martial, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. Covert was flown to the United States and confined in a federal prison in West Virginia. She appealed her verdict, and on a legal technicality, the U.S. Court of Military Appeals set aside her conviction. The court ordered that she receive a new trial at an air base in Washington, D.C. Covert was transferred to a Washington jail to await this second trial.

During her stay in Washington, Covert sought a writ of habeas corpus in district court. The district court issued the writ, and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Reid v. Covert - Significance, Two Cases, One Outcome, Time On Covert's Side?