Thursday, January 11, 2007

Underwhelming response from the Coast Guard

Last night I posed a number of questions inspired by the Coast Guard Court's latest opinion:

(1) What does "CGCMS" stand for in a Coast Guard Court case number?

(2) Why was Holbrook designated CGCMS 24329? When did the numbering system start?

(3) How many panels are there on the Coast Guard Court?

(4) Does every possible combination of Coast Guard Court judges get its own panel?

(5) Is there in an internal inconsistency in the Coast Guard Court's discussion of the fraudulent enlistment issue on page 5 of the Holbrook slip opinion?

(6) Does a Coast Guard regulation restrict Article 58a's automatic reduction provision from busting a Coastguardsman to E-1 if he is sentenced to a punitive discharge or confinement?

At this point I know little more than I did when I asked these questions last night. One Coast Guard alumnus suggested that looking at early Court-Martial Reports might shed some light on the questions. Pulling 1 and 2 C.M.R. off the shelf confirmed that CGCM stands for "Coast Guard Court-Martial." In early Coast Guard Board of Review decisions, the "S" stood for "Summary Court-Martial." See, e.g., United States v. Downs, 1 C.M.R. 553 (C.G.B.R. 1951). The Downs opinion indicates that Seaman Downs "was tried by a summary court-martial on May 24, 1951 under the disciplinary laws of the Coast Guard then in effect." Id. at 553. Later in Volume 1 of Court-Martial Reports, the term "special court-martial" came into use in Coast Guard cases. See United States v. Lewis, 1 C.M.R. 571 (C.G.B.R. 1951) (tried on 23-24 July 1951, less than two months after the UCMJ's 31 May 1951 effective date). But the very first decision of a Coast Guard Board of Review with a CGCMS number is the Downs case, which was tried on 24 May 1951 and was designated "CGCMS 19070." So apparently before 24 May 1951, the Coast Guard had tried 19,069 summary courts-martial. I'm still unsure of when CGCMS 1 might have been tried.

I do have an answer for Question 6. Here is the relevant excerpt from the Coast Guard's Military Justice Manual, COMDTINST M5810.1D (17 Aug 2000): "The administrative action of automatic reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade authorized under Article 58a, UCMJ, shall as a matter of policy not be effected in the Coast Guard." Id. at 4.E.1.

Can anyone answer questions 2-5?

--Dwight Sullivan


Nancy Truax said...

Well, sorry it's taken so long to respond, but that alacrity you speak of comes at a price...

I don’t think the Court numbers the cases, because, while the numbers appear to go up, there are some gaps (that could account for cases tried but not qualifying for appellate review).

Perusing the early C.M.R.s, the numbers do seem to predate the enactment of the UCMJ. But the numbers for general courts-martial are a little harder to track. In the C.M.R., the first number is CGCM 9731. But it looks like the odometer tripped over in 1988, with United States v. Sanchez (CGCM 0001). In 1998 they added a “G” to the GCM’s and they’re now called CGCMG, but it didn’t appear that the numbers changed (although U.S. v. Tardif was CGCMG 1063, but that appears to have been a typo – it fits neatly between the ones numbered in the high 0150’s and the low 0160’s, time-wise).

But whether the Coast Guard’s numbering scheme dates all the way back to the 7 December 1793 court-martial of Third Mate Sylvanus Coleman of the Revenue Cutter MASSACHUSETTS is anybody’s guess.

By the way, it appears that the Army and the Air Force’s numbering schemes also predate the UCMJ (the first Army Board of Review case in 1 C.M.R. was “CM 346591” and the first Air Force Board of Review case was “ACM S-1438”). But the Navy does appear to have started its numbering over again — the first Navy case is “NCM 9,” although “NCM 1” appears on the next page.

The Coast Guard Court has 10 panels, but not all are currently active. The Chief Judge sits on every panel, and the panels are constituted to ensure that no two panels have the same combination of judges. As each case comes in, it gets assigned to the next panel in order, unless that panel has to be skipped for some reason. The reason there are 10 panels is that sometimes there are more judges – there were six on the Court a few years ago.

You are indeed correct about Article 58a not applying to Coast Guard members.

CAAFlog said...

Thanks for the gouge!