I wrapped up my last post (here) by referencing United States v. Rinehart, 8 U.S.C.M.A. 402 (1953), a decision that finally prohibited the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) from military jury, known as a panel, deliberations. The Rinehart decision is an interesting one. It is an example of a court that has grown frustrated with the military judiciary’s glacial pace toward civilianizing the military justice system to the extent practical. It is also an example of the Court’s inner struggle to balance military tradition with traditional constitutional principles.
Military judges and practitioners rely heavily on the Military Judge’s Benchbook, which contains the pattern instructions used in the military justice system. However, not a lot of attention is paid on the history of this publication and its role in the development of military criminal law. In nearly five years of using this publication, I too never really wondered where it came from, or why it was initially produced. But after reading the decisions the Court of Military Appeals (now the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces) issued in its initial term for my current project on the Court’s experience as a court of last resort, I came across a series of decisions that may serve as the early foundation for the development of the Benchbook.