Why are those hot dogging US jet pilots who killed the Italians not in jail?

Re this story from 4 years ago I always wondered at the time how the pilots got away with what seemed to be obvious hot dogging flying 370 feet off the ground, and were essentially allowed to walk away (legally) from an accident that killed 19 people.

What was the specific conclusion of why they were found not guilty by the military?

Altitude guidelines at issue in Marine pilot court-martial

They were found not guilty by a jury. Simple, eh?

Do court martials have juries in the US?

I bet there were no Italians in the jury _

Yeah, because Americans would never convict someone of killing an Italian even if evidence proved they were guilty.

Yes. Courts-martial (the technically correct plural is courts-martial JFTR) must follow the U.S. Constitution, just like the civilian courts.

Besides, we Americans have a long and proud history of wiping out stray Italians.

Do courts martial operate in the field? Also, how is jury selection performed? Is it from a military or civilian pool? (I ask because that the UK version is somewhat different).

Court martial jurors are all members of the military–a mixture of officers and enlisted personnel. I’m no great fan of military justice, but that’s largely because the system is stacked against defendants, so most of my objections aren’t applicable to this acquittal.

I, too, am surprised at how many of our (US) military personel are found inocent of misconduct overseas. As the US becomes more and more dominant in the world, we really need to be squeaky clean on this. Besides being the right thing to do, the last thing we need to is to give more people reason to resent us.

Can some international law expert explain why it was a court-martial and not an Italian court that heard the case? Is it part of NATO agreements?

Tell the Koreans

Yes, it was apparently part of the NATO Forces Agreement. An Italian court to whom this was taken essentially had to say, “sorry, our hands are tied”.

And Forces Agreements vary depending on location. IIRC there may be FAs that allow a servicement to be tried locally if the alleged offense is NOT simultaneously covered by UCMJ or if it is entirely unrelated to the person’s service or military status.

Really? Cite? This article says it differently.

Nevermind. I thought you said guilty.

Initially, jurisdiction over the USMC flyers who hit the ski lift was controlled by the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, a sort of treaty between the NATO countries. In general it says that when a US service member commits an offense against local nationals which both violates local and US law in the form of the Uniform Code of Military Justice with its incorporation of the District of Columbia criminal code, the US and the local authorities have concurrent jurisdiction. If the act is against US personnel or violates only US law then the US has exclusive jurisdiction. If the offense is against local nationals and violates only local law then the local authorities have exclusive power to try the US service member. In the concurrent jurisdiction situation there are a number of factors to determine who gets the case but generally if the US service member was in line of duty the US gets the case unless the US declines to prosecute in which case the local authorities can go forward if they want to.

In this particular case (if Italy is still in NATO SOFA and if my recollection is correct) there was concurrent jurisdiction but because the Marines were on duty and not off on a frolic of there own the US had the primary right to exercise its criminal law jurisdiction.

I’d never heard about this Italian incident before, but it’s similar to the friendly-fire bombing of Canadian infantry in Afghanistan last summer.

Well, not that similar, but unfortunate nonetheless. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this trial.

A few things, if y’all don’t mind:

  1. The Status of Forces Agreement isn’t a “type of treaty,” it’s an actual treaty.

  2. The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that only officers can sit on juries for a court-martial of an officer.

And lastly, those who are surprised by how many of our Servicemembers who get exonerated at a court-martial would do well to remember that our courts-martial system follows the United States constitution and thus if someone else resents the way that operates (you know, the whole innocent until actually proven in a real court), then that’s just too bad.

To pick a nit, the Uniform Code says that no member of the court (the super jury in courts martial) may be of an inferior grade to the accused. Thus, no enlisted people on courts martials of officers. At a defendant’s request, however, there are enlisted members on courts when the accused is enlisted, with the limitation on members junior to the accused. Any accused, regardless of grade or rank can elect to be tried in a bench trial by a judge only. In the old days the bench trial was favored–the accused had the feeling that there was less of a stacked deck and commanders liked them because it took fewer of their people away from duty. The people trying them liked them because the logistics were easier and you didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining that the world was round and putting instructions together.

Thanks a million, SG! You’re exactly correct.