Supreme Court hears dispute over military rape prosecutions

Supreme Court hears dispute over military rape prosecutions
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in a dispute concerning how rape committed by U.S. military members is prosecuted and punished. 

The case has been closely watched by the national security community.

At issue is whether the U.S. military’s top court ruled correctly when it overturned the rape convictions of three male members of the Air Force. 


In a landmark 2018 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces broke with precedent to rule that a five-year statute of limitations applied to military rape prosecutions. As a result, the airmen’s convictions were dismissed.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday urged the justices to reverse the military court.

“I think rape is especially different when you talk to the prosecutors because it divides up platoons and units oftentimes in a way that other crimes do not,” said Jeffrey Wall, the acting U.S. solicitor general. 

The DOJ argued that charges for military rape are not time-limited because it has historically been treated under military law as among the most severe crimes, which means it can be prosecuted at any time.

A lawyer for the defendants on Tuesday pointed to federal law, a prior Supreme Court ruling, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to argue that military rape prosecutions should be time-limited.

A decision in the case, U.S. v. Briggs, is expected before July.