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Copyright (c) 1996 Air Force Judge Advocate General School
The Air Force Law Review



39 A.F. L. Rev. 261


Captain Teresa K. Hollingsworth, USAF *


History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history.

--Clarence Darrow


Even though it has been repudiated by appellate authorities since as early as 1953, 1 unlawful command influence continues to affect the military justice system. Often cloaked in ignorance and the good intentions of commanders and members of their command, this issue is a significant obstacle to those who would champion the military justice system as one of the best criminal justice systems in the world. This article defines unlawful command influence, discusses procedural issues as addressed through case law, and adds itself to a large stack of literature which aspires to educate those who are in the best position to prevent this issue from existing at all.


Unlawful command influence is prohibited by Article 37 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). 2 The word "unlawful" quickly becomes the definitional focus because "command influence" in the sense of lawful participation in the process is a necessary and predominant feature of the military justice system. 3 After all, military commanders have the lawful responsibility and authority to ensure the timely and fair disposition of charges. 4 However, sometimes that same power and authority is used to influence decisions that should be independent of command prerogatives and policy. Despite continuous efforts to educate commanders, judge advocates must be constantly vigilant because unlawful command influence, even in its most virulent forms, still occurs. 5

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