- On November 5, 2009, US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was stationed. He killed 13 and wounded 43 soldiers and civilians
- The US military has jurisdiction over the case
- Major Hasan faces 13 murder charges or “specifications,” and he faces the death penalty
On November 5, 2009, US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, entered the base early in the afternoon. He reported, as usual, to the “Soldier Readiness Center.” This is where soldiers get routine medical and dental treatment, usually immediately before or after being deployed.
He then opened fire with two handguns. He fired about 100 shots. Before he was shot by responding police officers and incapacitated, he killed 12 US soldiers and one civilian. In addition, he injured 43 other soldiers and civilians.
Almost immediately after the incident, there was a flurry of questions about Hasan’s physical condition and what legal proceedings would take place. After a few days, it became clear that Hasan would survive his injuries, although he’s currently paralyzed. As for the legal actions, it was soon announced that the US military would prosecute Hasan.
Military officials charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder. In military law jargon, a criminal count or charge is called a “specification.” He may face other charges, but military officials haven’t indicated what those charges might be. It’s possible, though, that he may be charged with the murder of the unborn child of one his victims, US Army Private Francheska Velez, under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
Hasan’s family has hired John Galligan to defend Hasan. Galligan is a retired US Army colonel with extensive experience with defending soldiers in military courts.
What’s a Military Court and Why Try Hasan There?
Under the authority given to it by Article I of the US Constitution, the US Congress created military courts and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ covers almost everything having to do with military law, including crimes and criminal prosecutions. It applies to members of the US armed forces worldwide. A military criminal trial court is called a “court martial.”
The UCMJ gives courts-martial jurisdiction over active military personnel, as well as certain other people, such as paid military retirees and military retirees hospitalized in military hospitals. Hasan was in his Army uniform and killed and wounded Army personnel on a US military base. Obviously, the UCMJ applies to Hasan, and a court-martial is the logical place for him to stand trial.
That’s not to say that a court-martial was or is the only option. Federal courts could take jurisdiction over Hasan’s case if, for example, federal prosecutors accuse Hasan of committing an act of terrorism in violation of federal anti-terrorism laws, such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
A federal court could possibly charge Hasan with being a terrorist after the court-martial is over. Although the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy clause protects him from being tried for and convicted of the same crime more than once, it could be argued that the crimes of murder and terrorism are not the same. Likewise, if military officials choose not to charge him with the death of the unborn child, he could be charged with that murder in federal court.
What about the state courts? The Texas state courts don’t have the authority to prosecute Hasan, even though he broke Texas laws, too. Either as a soldier in the US Army or as “terrorist,” only the military and federal courts may prosecute him. That could be unfortunate if the military or federal courts don’t charge Hasan with the death of the unborn victim. Given the chance, Texas could charge him for the crime under the state’s Prenatal Protection Act.
Will Justice Be Swift?
Things move quickly in the military courts. Under the UCMJ, Hasan must be brought to trial before a general court martial within 120 days after he begins “pre-trial confinement.” Although no one has said so in a definitive way, it’s possible that the 120-day clock is ticking because Hasan is under arrest and under military guard at the hospital.
Once a court martial is formed or “convened,” a jury of 12 members of the military decides the case. The jurors are members with a rank higher than Hasan’s rank of Major, so the members will have ranks of at least lieutenant colonel.
The trial may start quickly, but it may not end quickly. Hasan will likely undergo a barrage of psychological examinations, which will slow things down. And, because the military has announced recently that it will seek the death penalty in Hasan’s case, if he’s convicted it could be years before the sentence is carried out.
The shooting at Fort Hood was the worst crime ever committed on a US military base on US soil. The public, the surviving victims, and the families of the victims who were killed are ready for closure on this case. Hopefully, Hasan’s trial moves quickly and we can all put this horrible chapter behind us.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do the victims and their families have a right to attend Hasan’s court martial? If he’s sentenced to death, can the witness the execution?
- Do the taxpayers have to pay for Hasan’s attorney?
- Since Hasan killed and wounded civilians, shouldn’t there be a way to have at least one civilian on the jury?