The UCMJ and Unfriendly Fire

So, imagine if one soldier got into a fight with enemy, the fist to fist kind and he’s loosing. If the soldiers team mates come, would there be any law to prevent them from shooting? Would they be charged with anything if their bullets accidently harmed or killed the soldier?

So, this is a little vague, but the answer is, almost certainly, yes.

I’m not an expert on military law, and the exact circumstances you’re presenting are somewhat unclear.

The US Military operates under the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UMCJ), and you can search the text of this online, if you’d like.

A couple of highlights, dueling is illegal (Article 114.) This is assuming that the fight between the soldier and the enemy was not warfare related, and was previously arranged. Normally, Article 114 assumes that the parties will be fighting using lethal weapons, so not a fist fight.

Article 134 covers negligent and willful discharge of firearms. Either one of these could certainly apply, depending on the specific circumstances. Article 134, Paragraph 100a, covers reckless engagement, and firing into a melee between two individuals, when one is friendly, could certainly apply, especially if they hit the friendly.

It’s worth noting that, while there are a lot of potential legal issues, if this is part of a military operation, it’s unlikely criminal charges would be filed, unless things went seriously off the rails. However, if this was part of a planned, coherent, operation, it’s unlikely that a squad would let itself scatter to the point where one of the members would be in a literal fist fight with an enemy combatant.

On the other hand, if the, “enemy,” is a civilian, and this occurred while soldiers were on leave. For example, a soldier gets drunk, mouths off at a local (this could be a violation of Article 117, if both are subject to the UCMJ), provokes a brawl (this could be a 116 violation), one of his squaddies pulls a gun (which he shouldn’t have while on leave, and is an Article 121 violation), and opens fire on the “enemy” (this is probably a 134 violation, probably a 124 violation if they survive, and either a 117 or 118 if they didn’t. (Murder and Manslaughter.)) Yeah, some Military laws were broken.

The short version is, if the soldiers are doing their job, even if the situation got a little out of hand, it probably wouldn’t result in criminal charges, unless something went seriously off the rails. (For example, if the perceived hostile was in fact part of a diplomatic security detail, or another neutral, third party.)

If the soldiers are off, “doing their own thing,” and weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, then this is a legal minefield.

-Starke

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