Military bases can be thought of as islands from a legal standpoint. For the most part, they are in a state and tend to be incredibly large entities that influence the towns and cities that have grown up around them. However, crossing through the gate and entering onto the base often puts an individual out of the jurisdiction of the state where the base is located and into Federal jurisdiction.
Crimes committed on a military base by active-duty soldiers are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and military prosecutors can file charges and carry out a prosecution much like one would be conducted in a civilian court. However, issues arise when the crime is committed on base by a civilian.
“This issue was highlighted by a recent Associated Press investigation, which revealed that dozens of cases of juvenile sexual assault committed against other juveniles at Fort Hood in Texas had gone unprosecuted,” said Gary L. Medlin, a Ft. Worth Sex Crimes Attorney with The Medlin Law Firm. “The reason was that cases involving civilians on military bases fall to Federal prosecutors, many of whom simply do not have the staff to prosecute all of the cases referred to them. Generally, these cases can be referred out to county prosecutors, but this has not been a common occurrence.”
Legislators at the Federal and state level have attempted to address this issue at Fort Hood by entering a memorandum of understanding that attempts to clarify any possible jurisdictional issues. The memorandum states that a county may prosecute any juvenile case referred to it that arises on base, and that such a prosecution will not infringe upon federal sovereignty.
“Fort Hood and its Federal prosecutors are going to attempt to refer out any juvenile sex crime cases that occur on base to local prosecutors if the Federal ones do not feel equipped to handle the case,” said Medlin. “Because Texas prosecutes instances of juvenile sex crimes as a civil juvenile delinquency matter, they are not infringing upon the Federal government’s criminal prosecution or the right of the Federal government to prosecute the crime.”
These changes will not affect sex crimes committed by adults on military bases, which will continue to be prosecuted by Federal prosecutors.