Reid v. Covert

354 U.S. 1, 77 S. Ct. 1222 (1957)



The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution of the United States. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield, which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide, to protect his life and liberty, should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land.


Following trials by court-martial, several civilians, wives of members of the United States military, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the first district court ordered a civilian released from custody. This was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Should the civilians be released from custody?




The Court held that respondent civilians, each tried by court-martial and convicted of murder, should be released from custody, because under the Constitution of the United States, the courts of law alone had the power to try civilians for their offenses against the United States. The Constitution in its entirety applied to the trials of respondents, and their court-martials did not meet the requirements of U.S. Const. art. III, § 2 or U.S. Const. amends. V and VI. Further, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 14 did not encompass persons who could not fairly be said to be "in" the military service. Respondents, wives of members of the United States military, could not fairly be said to be "in" the military service. Respondents did not lose their civilian status and their right to a civilian trial because the government helped them live as members of a soldier's family. The Court stated that it should not break faith with the nation's tradition of keeping military power subservient to civilian authority, a tradition which was firmly embodied in the Constitution.

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