Does a Military Court-Martial of Fewer than Six Persons Violate Due Process?

The U.S. Supreme Court held, in Ballew v. Georgia, that the constitutional right to a jury trial requires a jury consisting of no fewer than six persons for non-petty offenses.  Does this standard apply in military courts-martial?  Not according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

This morning, the the D.C. Circuit rejected Kevin Sanford’s claim that his conviction by a military court-martial consisting of fewer than six persons violated his due process rights.  Judge Rogers opinion for the court summarizes the case as follows:

In challenging his conviction by a military court-martial consisting of less than six persons, Kevin Sanford invites this court to hold that his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment were violated. He relies
on the Supreme Court’s announcement of a constitutional minimum six-person jury for the trial of civilian, non-petty offenses in Ballew v. Georgia, 435 U.S. 223 (1978), and suggests it is the government’s burden to show that his due process rights were not violated. Because Ballew was grounded in the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, however, Sanford is actually seeking a new due process right to a court-martial panel of a minimum size. Sanford’s focus on rebutting the government’s assertions thus fails to engage the appropriate inquiry under Weiss v. United States, 510 U.S. 163 (1994), which is “whether the factors militating in favor of [the proposed rule] are so extraordinarily weighty as to overcome the balance struck by Congress.” . . . Because Sanford failed to
engage this standard before the military courts, their resolution of his claim suffered from no fundamental defect and was properly upheld by the district court.

The Supreme Court’s conclusion regarding minimum jury size in the civilian system was based on empirical  studies.  . . . Sanford presented no similar empirical evidence regarding the military justice system, which
has features to ensure accurate fact finding not found in the civilian justice system. Rather, Sanford contends that Ballew reflects a conclusion about a fundamental right that is required by due process under both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Still he fails to show that the empirical data underlying Ballew’s holding applies with equal force to the military justice system, which is based on Congress’ balancing of interests, some of which are unique to the military. Doubtless it is fundamental that there be accurate fact finding under the justice system Congress established in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, . . . but Sanford fails to show that the design of the military system is so incompatible with that principle as to violate due process.  Accordingly, we affirm the dismissal of his complaint.

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