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A U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam in 1970 kills his commanding officer with a fragmentation grenade (a common strategy dubbed "fragging"). Would the soldier be non-liable after a certain period of time, or could he be charged with murder even if he was identified as the killer, say, seventy years later?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Apr 23 at 16:50
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Under 10 USC 843(a), i.e. Article 43 of the UCMJ,

A person charged with absence without leave or missing movement in time of war, with murder, rape or sexual assault, or rape or sexual assault of a child, maiming of a child, kidnapping of a child, or with any other offense punishable by death, may be tried and punished at any time without limitation.

The lack of limitation in the case of murder has been in Art. 43 since the UCMJ was enacted in 1950.

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    Does that mean that a person could be charged with being AWOL 50 years after the fact, or merely that if a person is charged in timely fashion with being AWOL but isn't found until 50 years after the charges are found, they could be prosecuted on charges that have remained pending for 50 years?
    – supercat
    Apr 21 at 17:10
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    @supercat: The punishment for going AWOL in a time of war can be death so it's treated as an extremely serious crime. I would imagine it means either or however the military can basically make rules up as they go.
    – jesse_b
    Apr 21 at 19:56
  • @jesse_b: Going AWOL during wartime is a very serious offense, but there are a variety of legitimate or excusable reasons why one might fail to appear at an expected location at a particular time. If someone was recorded as having not been where they were supposed to be, but after they showed up late they explained the situation to their superiors who accepted the justification but failed to record it, could the person be charged years later for having been AWOL?
    – supercat
    Apr 21 at 20:10
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    @supercat I'm not sure but I do know the military has gone soft on this (Bowe Bergdahl), and what a civilian may consider "legitimate or excusable" has no bearing in the military. If both of your legs somehow get broken you better low crawl to your post and request permission to see medical. However even in your explained circumstance worse things have happened. I wouldn't say it happens "all the time" but people frequently get in trouble for things out of their control in the military and there is often very little sympathy/path for appeal.
    – jesse_b
    Apr 21 at 20:34
  • @supercat IIRC there's procedures in the US military for officers to discipline their subordinates without needing to go through formal court martials. If you show up late for a meeting, and after you explain why, your officer goes "Okay, sure. You're on toilet duty for the next week," then my understanding (as a civilian) is that should be the end of it unless you want to invoke the formal court martial process to dispute it.
    – nick012000
    Apr 22 at 3:14
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There is no statute of limitations on murder

This is true of other serious crimes as well like sexual assault, war crimes, genocide etc.

The person can be charged now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now. Assuming they are still alive, of course, you can’t charge dead people.

As a practical matter, historical crimes are more difficult to prosecute due to loss of evidence, both physical and testimony (because witnesses are dead). For that reason (among others) a prosecutor may decide not to proceed.

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    Downvoted for failure to cite a specific law.
    – Mark
    Apr 20 at 21:06
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    @DanHenderson Except for this one: imdb.com/title/tt3711416
    – bta
    Apr 20 at 22:49

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