In an 8-0 opinion issued Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that military personnel accused of a rape between 1986 and 2006 -- a period previously subject to a five-year statute of limitations -- can be charged for the crime.
At issue in U.S. v. Briggs is a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, or CAAF, to overturn three rape convictions that occurred within that 20-year period.
Prior to 1996, the UCMJ held that rape was a crime punishable by death and therefore had no time limit for prosecuting the crime. A 1998 CAAF ruling established the five-year time limit, which remained in place until Congress moved to abolish it in 2006.
In the new opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the justices said the Uniform Code of Military Justice favored the government's interpretation that military rape cases are "punishable by death" and therefore, carry no statute of limitations regardless of when the crime occurred.
The justices also agreed with government's argument that rape is a particularly damaging crime in the military context because it disrupts good order and discipline.