Wilson v. Girard

Argued July 8, 1957
Decided July 11, 1957
Full case name Charles E. Wilson, Secretary of Defense, et al., v. William S. Girard, United States Army Specialist 3/C.

354 U.S. 524 (more)

77 S.Ct. 1409
Argument Oral argument
Prior history Girard v. Wilson, 152 F. Supp. 21 (D.D.C 1957) (denying writ of habeas corpus, but granting injunction to petitioner)
Court membership
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Douglas took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S.–Japan Status of Forces Agreement

Wilson v. Girard was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court refused to stop the executive branch from handing United States Army soldier William S. Girard over to Japanese authorities for trial. Girard was accused of killing a Japanese woman while assigned to the US Army in Japan.


Main article: Girard incident

Girard was participating in training exercises with his unit when a spent ammunition casing he fired towards a Japanese civilian hit her in the back with lethal force.[1] He then was arrested and held by US authorities,[2] but Japanese authorities indicted him for criminal homicide.[3] Under the terms of the U.S.–Japan Status of Forces Agreement then in force, both the United States and Japan could claim jurisdiction over his prosecution. However, the United States' claim had precedence if Girard was "on duty" when the suspected crime occurred. The United States argued that Girard was in fact "on duty," and that he should therefore be tried by US court martial.[4] The Japanese argued the opposite. After much discussion, the US decided as a political matter that they would hand Girard over, as the case was causing great controversy in Japan and threatened to harm the alliance.

Girard sued to stop his surrender to the Japanese. He petitioned for habeas corpus, claiming he was held unlawfully by the Army. This was denied by the district court, but the district court did enjoin the Army from handing him over to the Japanese. Both sides appealed to the Supreme Court.


The court first noted the principle that a sovereign nation always has exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute crimes in its territory, unless it consents to prosecution by some other authority. The court then cited the U.S.-Japan SOFA for the conditions of Japan's consent to U.S. jurisdiction in this case. One of those conditions was that the U.S. could waive its jurisdiction, which is what the U.S. did in this case.[5] The court then stated that it saw no constitutional problems with such a diplomatic agreement, and that therefore the "wisdom" of such agreements are completely within the realm of the political branches.[6] The court upheld the district court's denial of habeas corpus, and reversed the injunction.[7] This cleared the way for the Executive Branch to hand Girard over to the Japanese.


  1. Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 526 (1957)
  2. "on or about January 30, 1957, he was arrested and thereafter held in confinement by the military authorities of the United States and is presently held in such confinement . . ." Girard v. Wilson, 152 F. Supp. 21, 22 (D.D.C 1957) aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 354 U.S. 524 (1957)
  3. "Japan indicted him for causing death by wounding." Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 526 (1957)
  4. "The United States claimed the right to try Girard upon the ground that his act, as certified by his commanding officer, was ‘done in the performance of official duty’ and therefore the United States had primary jurisdiction." Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 529 (1957)
  5. Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 529 (1957)
  6. Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 530 (1957)
  7. Wilson v. Girard, 354 U.S. 524, 530 (1957)
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