Law School Resources
EX PARTE QUIRIN 317 U.S. 1 (1942)
Eight men were convicted of treason in
1942. All were born in Germany and all had lived in the United
States, and all returned to Germany between 1933 and 1941. After
the declaration of war between the United States and the
Germany, they were sent back the U.S. where they were to conduct
Upon landing, two of the men, Dasch and
Burger turned themselves in to the FBI. All had received
instructions in Germany from an officer of the German High
Command to destroy war industries and war facilities in the
United States, for which they or their relatives in Germany were
to receive salary payments from the German Government.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a
secret military tribunal which sentenced the eight men to death.
The President later commuted the death sentences of Dasch and
Burger to life in prison. Though all the men confessed, and gave
full statements, the remaining six were executed by
electrocution on August 8, 1942 in Washington, D.C. Dasch and
Burger were released from prison in 1948 and deported to
Did the President have authority to have
enemy combatants tried before a military tribunal without a jury
and without a grand jury indictment, and were the prisoners
entitled to judicial review.
The Court upheld the prisoners' right to
judicial review. The Court declared, however, that a military
trial was justified by a combination of the president's power as
commander in chief and valid congressional legislation
authorizing military trials of those accused of committing
offenses against the law of war. The Court upheld congressional
adoption of the international common law of war and declared
that Congress need not specifically define all the acts that
violate that law. The Court further found that the accused had
been sufficiently charged with unlawful belligerency and that
this offense was within the commission's jurisdiction.
The justices declared that the prisoners
were not entitled to grand jury process or a trial by jury. They
distinguished Ex parte Milligan (1866), which barred military
trials of violations of the law of war when local state courts
are in operation, on the ground that Milligan had not been
deemed an enemy belligerent.
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