What is a Court-Martial? Ex – US Navy Commanders Face Charges over Deadly Collisions

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The US Navy announced two former commanding officers of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain will face criminal charges. The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and the most serious charge, negligent homicide. The Navy also stated there will be additional administrative actions for members of both crews. Four crew members from the USS Fitzgerald and also four crew members from USS John S. McCain will face non-judicial punishment, according to CNN.

On June 17, 2017, a collision occurred between the Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer and the ACX Crystal off the coast of Honshu, Japan. The collision claimed the lives of seven sailors. A few months later on August 21, 2017, the USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer collided with a Liberian-flagged merchant vessel Alnic MC.  As a result, another ten sailors lost their lives.

Furthermore, CNN reports that “the crews of both the McCain and Fitzgerald failed to fulfill key training qualifications ahead of the incidents that occurred this summer.”

At the time of the incident, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez was in charge of the USS McCain and Cmdr. Bryce Benson was the commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald. Moreover, sources close to the investigation reported that the collision was preventable. “The commanding officer exercised poor judgment and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship’s training program,” the statement said.

Court-Martial Proceedings

However, in this case, court-martial proceedings will be convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against several members of the USS Fitzgerald. A court-martial is a criminal trial for members of the military who are accused of committing crimes. Instead of facing criminal charges in a US district court, the military will prosecute.

Negligent Homicide Charge in the US Military

Per Newsweek, negligent homicide is the lowest level of criminal homicide in military law. In fact, it carries a maximum sentence of three years in a military prison. “It essentially is an accusation or charge of failing to exercise enough care for the safety of others.”

Negligent Homicide falls under Article 134 of the U.S. Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). “Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which person subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court,” per Newsweek.

Generally speaking, the charges that Commander Bryce and Commander Alfredo Sanchez are facing are serious but not the worst allegation that servicemen may face.


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