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Reid v. Covert

Two Cases, One Outcome

At the same time the Court agreed to hear Reid, it took on a similar case, Kinsella v. Krueger. Like Clarice Covert, Dorothy Kinsella Smith had lived abroad with her husband, a U.S. Army colonel. Like Covert, Kinsella Smith murdered her husband and was sentenced by a court-martial to life imprisonment. Kinsella Smith, however, had been denied a writ of habeas corpus by a different district court. Now, the Supreme Court issued different decisions, but with the same outcome.

In a 5-3 vote, with Justice Frankfurter reserving judgment, the Court reversed the lower court's granting of a writ to Covert and affirmed the denial of a writ for Kinsella Smith. Both women had claimed Article 2 (11) of the UCMJ was unconstitutional; Covert, in addition, argued she was no longer under the jurisdiction of the court-martial once she left England and returned to America.

Justice Clark wrote the decision for both cases, and he addressed the constitutional issue in Kinsella. The Court, Clark said, has long held that Congress can set up courts outside of the United States, and "the procedure in such tribunals need not comply with the standards prescribed by the Constitution for Article 3 Courts." (Article 3 outlines the federal court system.) Congress thus had authority to include in the UCMJ court-martials for civilians living abroad.

In his Reid decision, Clark also dismissed the claim that the court-martial no longer had jurisdiction for Covert's case. He wrote:

An entirely different case might be presented if Mrs. Covert had terminated her status as a person "accompanying the armed forces without the continental limits of the United States" by returning to this country voluntarily. But this is not the case. The issue here is whether we should create an exception to the general rule that jurisdiction of a tribunal, once acquired, continues until final disposition . . . It would be unreasonable to hold that the services retained jurisdiction of military prisoners that they kept in foreign countries but lost jurisdiction of prisoners confined in penal institutions in the United States.

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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?