Reid v. Covert

354 U.S. 1 (1957)

Facts: Mrs. Covert killed her husband on an airbase in England. Pursuant to a “status-of-forces” executive agreement with England, she was tried and convicted by US court-martial without a jury trial under the UCMJ. She petitioned a writ of habeus corpus on the grounds that the conviction violated her 5th & 6th Amendment rights to be tried by a jury after indictment by a grand jury.

Issue:  Whether the executive agreement is restrained by constitutional limitations.

Holding: Yes. The Constitution in its entirety applies to the trials. Since their court-martial did not meet the requirements of Art. III §2 or the 5th and 6th Amendments the court was compelled to determine if there is anything within the Constitution which authorizes the military trial of dependents accompanying the armed forces overseas. No agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution.

In general, the president cannot contract away individual constitutional rights. It is within the President’s power to enter into these agreements, however, but the agreement cannot conflict with enacted statute or the constitution.

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