I’ve heard that the answer to this question depends on the situation. Suppose, for example, a US president decides to conspire to poison a city’s water supply to cover-up some administrative abuse or crime and scare and silence citizens. Would this be an offense for which the US military could court martial a US president?

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    Voting not to Close - This is question that can be answered factually.
    – sfxedit
    Jul 12 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


Almost certainly not.

The President is Supreme Commander of the armed forces, but that role is a civilian role. He is not member of the armed forces or subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Moreover given the President's unfettered power of pardon, it is likely that court-martial proceedings could not proceed against a sitting President, for the same reason that federal criminal proceedings are probably not possible. So if a President was subject to the UCMJ (for some reason) he/she still could not be court-martialled - though this is untested.

Poisoning water would obviously be a State crime, (assault or murder and probably some others too) not a military crime, and so could be tried in state court, probably after impeachment and removal of the President.

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    I don't quite follow the pardon section. Even if it is determined that a president could indeed pardon themselves for the offense they're being court martialed for, I don't see why that in principle precludes proceedings in the first place (although it could in practice). As I understand it, the rationale behind why federal criminal proceedings can't be brought against the president has nothing to do with pardon powers. Jul 11 at 17:57
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    Pardoning is not the reason that federal criminal charges cannot proceed against the president. it has to do with a (highly criticized and disputed) DoJ opinion based primarily on a certain interpretation of Article 2 that "executive Power shall be vested in a President", and that the executive "cannot very well charge itself". As I said, "highly disputed", but it has been left in place by several administrations. Jul 11 at 18:07
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    The pardon self idea was IMHO first really surfaced by Trump and not everyone was convinced of its legality then. I wouldn't count is as legal principle until tested in court. Otherwise, yes, the key point is that court martials are for military personnel and POWs, not civs. POTUS is not military and their position in the chain of command follows the standard custom of civilian oversight of the military found in democracies. npr.org/2021/01/09/955087860/can-trump-pardon-himself Jul 11 at 19:43
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    The hesitance to prosecute a sitting president has little if anything to do with the pardon power and everything to do with traditional notions of immunity and the reasons for it.
    – phoog
    Jul 12 at 9:41
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Actually, many civilian government personnel as well as contractors to the US government are governed by and under the UCMJ.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 12 at 11:07

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