Crime in Japan can buy civilians one-way ticket back to U.S.
OKINAWA — Civilians who run afoul of the law on military bases in Japan won’t find themselves in a court-martial.
They will, however, face administrative proceedings.
And depending on the severity of their offense, they could be sent back to the States to be prosecuted in federal courts.
Servicemembers and civilians here under the status of forces agreement, or SOFA, are subject to Japanese law if they commit off-base crimes, but civilians aren’t subject to the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Instead, all U.S. military installations in Japan use a similar administrative hearing process for civilians, officials say.
“The exact process used to evaluate conduct by [civilians] varies by service and installation,” Dale L. Sonnenberg, deputy of the staff judge advocate office at Headquarters, U.S. Forces Japan, said in an e-mail.
The process is administrative, so legal “rights” associated with court proceedings don’t necessarily apply, although civilians may bring an attorney to hearings, said Marine Corps Bases Japan Inspector Carl D. Hodges.
Participation is voluntary, he said.
However, if accused wrongdoers choose not to submit to the process, the military has little choice but to ban them from base or send them back to the States.
For serious crimes — defined as those punishable by more than a year’s imprisonment if committed within U.S. jurisdiction — the Military Extraterritorial Judicial Act of 2000 can be leveraged.
The act established federal jurisdiction over offenses committed outside the United States by people employed by or accompanying the armed forces, as well as people who leave active duty before they are identified or prosecuted for an offense, according to the law.
For felony offenses, Sonnenburg said, the act empowers Defense Department law enforcers to hold people for return to the States.
“In all cases, the U.S. may take disciplinary action for violations committed by any SOFA person, even if the government of Japan has criminally prosecuted the person,” he said.
The act stipulates that the U.S. attorney general or deputy attorney general has to approve the additional prosecution.