In O’Callahan v. Parker, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a “service connection” requirement for court-martial subject matter jurisdiction. For almost two decades that requirement caused numerous problems of interpretation and application. In Solorio v. United States, the Court overruled its decision in O’Callahan. While assigned to a Coast Guard unit in Juneau, Alaska, the accused committed numerous acts of sexual abuse against two minor daughters of other Coast Guard members. The crimes were not discovered, however, until after he had been transferred to Governors Island, New York, where he committed additional acts of sexual abuse on other daughters of Coast Guardsmen.
On a defense motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the military judge concluded that the Alaska offenses were not service connected, but the New York offenses were since they had been committed in government quarters. On a government appeal of that ruling, the Coast Guard Court of Military Review held that there was sufficient service connection over the Alaska offenses. On certiorari review, the Supreme Court affirmed. Writing for five members of the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist stated that jurisdiction of a court-martial depends solely on the defendant’s status as a member of the armed forces, not service connection.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Solorio is significant for several reasons. First, by abandoning the service connection requirement for determining subject matter jurisdiction, the Court has signaled a growing deference for Congress’ decisions on what offenses may be prosecuted in the military criminal justice system. It also presents new options for both civilian and military prosecutors. In effect, the decision creates concurrent jurisdiction between military and civilian prosecutors over servicemembers who have committed offenses in the civilian community. For both prosecutors and defense counsel, the Solorio decision is bound to affect civilian criminal justice in many jurisdictions—especially those in proximity to military installations.
David A. Schlueter, When Soldiers Are Defendants, 3 Crim. Just. 14 (1988).