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Saturday, November 02, 2019

Leavenworth, Ep. 2: Casualties, part 2

The following is by my FIU colleague Eric Carpenter, who is blogging this show. Episode 3, airing Sunday, features talking-head interviews with Eric and footage of his Military Justice class mooting the case.

The Lorance fact pattern isn’t a classic “following orders” case. Lorance was not following any orders when he ordered the shooting. The fact pattern does set up interesting issues with the soldiers in his platoon, though. Some followed illegal orders (like shooting harassing fire at the village) and some refused illegal orders (like reporting false information to the higher headquarters). It looks like the soldiers were granted immunity for those actions so that they would testify, and I expect that the defense will tie this into the idea that the whole platoon had a motive to lie. By saying Lorance was 100% at fault, they could get the immunity they needed.

Here is the basic quandary. We want soldiers to follow orders immediately. If they don’t, they can be prosecuted for failing to follow an order. However, if they do follow the order, and it turns out that the underlying action is unlawful, they can be prosecuted for doing that unlawful action. When put in a sketchy circumstance, it looks like they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Should they risk being prosecuted for refusing the order, or risk being prosecuted for doing something that might be illegal?

In 1621, Gustavus Adolphus included a section in his Code that dealt with this problem. Article 46 says that no officers may order anyone to do anything unlawful. Article 45 tells soldiers to follow orders, but if an order is unlawful, to disobey the order and report the problem to higher.

Current American military law is not too far off from that. The law is weighted toward having the service member follow the order. Service members should infer that the order is lawful and they assume the risk of not following the order. They should only refuse patently illegal orders. Usually, this issue comes up when soldiers refuse to follow an order to deploy somewhere, arguing that the war is illegal. This issue is litigated before trial, where the military judge decides whether the order was lawful or not. If lawful, then the soldier has a tough case ahead (it is pretty clear that they did not follow an order). If the military judge says that the order was unlawful, then the government has failed to state an offense (it is not against the law to refuse to do something illegal).

If service members do follow the order, and it turns out that the underlying action was illegal, then they can raise the defense of following orders. Under that defense, they are excused unless they know or should have known that the order was illegal (which is the same thing as the order being patently illegal). Once raised, the government must disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Returning to the Lorance facts, the soldiers who fired the harassing fire into the village followed an order, it turns out that underlying action was unlawful, and if they had been prosecuted, they could have raised a defense. They would likely lose on that defense, though, because everyone knows you can’t shoot harassing fire. The order was patently illegal.

The soldiers who refused to make false reports could have been prosecuted for that (that would be very unlikely). They would have argued before trial that the order was unlawful, and a military judge would certainly agree with that.

How about the soldiers who shot at the men on the motorcycle? Again, they followed orders. If they were prosecuted, they could raise the defense of following orders. I think they would win on that. They had no idea what Lorance might have known. Lorance could have received intelligence from higher that the men were about to threaten the unit, for example. Further, the soldier in the gun truck was separated from the rest of the unit. He didn’t know what Lorance might have seen that he did not. The government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they knew or should have known that the order was illegal, and I don’t think the government would be able to meet that burden.

These issues should come up in the next episode, but with more of a focus on the granting of immunity. The soldiers who fired the harassing shots needed immunity and maybe they would have the potential for bias. I don’t think anyone else needed immunity so I can’t see why they would be biased.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 2, 2019 at 02:03 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

Can you tell me where the memorial is that is shown in this episode, where there are life size statues??

Posted by: Tionda Hendrix | Nov 11, 2019 1:24:30 PM

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