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Ex Parte Quirin


Ex Parte Quirin established the principle that, in times of war, enemy agents can be tried by military courts. Such defendants do not have the right to a civil jury trial, although the decisions of the courts martial are subject to review by civilian courts.

Richard Quirin was one of eight German saboteurs captured just after the United States entered World War II. The eight were accused of violating the unformalized international law of war and the Articles of War enacted by the U.S. Congress. The petitioners had been detained for trial on charges of attempting to undermine the American war effort. Their trials were to be held before a military commission set up for that purpose by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The eight saboteurs applied to the District Court of the District of Columbia for permission to file petitions for habeas corpus, challenging their confinement, in the U.S. Supreme Court. When the district court turned them down, they applied directly to the Supreme Court. In their petitions, they challenged the authority of the president to set up the military tribunal and asserted their right under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to trial by jury, a procedure with more safeguards than are observed in military courts.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Ex Parte Quirin - Significance, Supreme Court Holds Special Session As Saboteurs Face Death Penalty