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decided: February 23, 1972.



Stewart, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Douglas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 46. Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Stewart

[ 405 U.S. Page 35]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

When a member of the armed forces has applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector and has exhausted all avenues of administrative relief, it is now settled that he may seek habeas corpus relief in a federal district court on the ground that the denial of his application had no basis in fact. The question in this case is whether the district court must stay its hand when court-martial proceedings are pending against the serviceman.

The petitioner, Joseph Parisi, was inducted into the Army as a draftee in August 1968. Nine months later he applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector, claiming that earlier doubts about military service had crystallized into a firm conviction that any form of military activity conflicted irreconcilably with his religious beliefs. He was interviewed by the base chaplain, the base psychiatrist, and a special hearing officer. They all attested to the petitioner's sincerity and to the religious content of his professed beliefs. In addition, the commanding general of the petitioner's Army training center and the commander of the Army hospital recommended that the petitioner be discharged as a conscientious objector. His immediate commanding officer, an Army captain, disagreed, recommending disapproval of the application on the ground that the petitioner's beliefs were based on essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views, or on a merely personal moral code.

In November 1969, the Department of the Army denied the petitioner conscientious objector status, on the grounds that his professed beliefs had become fixed prior to entering the service and that his opposition to war was not truly based upon his religious beliefs. On November 24, 1969, the petitioner applied to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (hereafter

[ 405 U.S. Page 36]

     sometimes ABCMR) for administrative review of that determination.

Four days later the petitioner commenced the present habeas corpus proceeding in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming that the Army's denial of his conscientious objector application was without basis in fact. He sought discharge from the Army and requested a preliminary injunction to prevent his transfer out of the jurisdiction of the District Court and to prohibit further training preparatory to being transferred to Vietnam. The District Court declined at that time to consider the merits of the habeas corpus petition, but it retained jurisdiction pending a decision by the ABCMR, and in the meantime enjoined Army authorities from requiring the petitioner to participate in activity or training beyond his current noncombatant duties.

Shortly thereafter the petitioner received orders to report to Fort Lewis, Washington, for deployment to Vietnam, where he was to perform noncombatant duties similar to those that had been assigned to him in this country. He sought a stay of this redeployment order pending appeal of the denial of habeas corpus, but his application was denied by the Court of Appeals, on the condition that the Army would produce him if the appeal should result in his favor. A similar stay application was subsequently denied by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS as Ninth Circuit Justice, Parisi v. Davidson, 396 U.S. 1233. The petitioner then reported to Fort Lewis. He refused, however, to obey a military order to board a plane for Vietnam. As a result, he was charged with violating Art. 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U. S. C. ยง 890, and, on April 8, 1970, a court-martial convicted him of that military offense.*fn1

[ 405 U.S. Page 37]

     While the court-martial charges were pending, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records notified the petitioner that it had rejected his application for relief from the Army's denial of his conscientious objector application. The District Court then ordered the Army to show cause why the pending writ of habeas corpus should not issue. On the Government's motion, the District Court, on March 31, 1970, entered an order deferring consideration of the habeas corpus petition until final determination of the criminal charge then pending in the military court system. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this order, concluding that "habeas proceedings were properly stayed pending the final conclusion of Parisi's military trial and his appeals therefrom," 435 F.2d 299, 302. We granted certiorari, 402 U.S. 942.

In affirming the stay of the petitioner's federal habeas corpus proceeding until completion of the military courts' action, the Court of Appeals relied on the related doctrines of exhaustion of alternative remedies and comity between the federal civilian courts and the military system of justice. We hold today that neither of these doctrines required a stay of the habeas corpus proceedings in this case.

With respect to available administrative remedies, there can be no doubt that the petitioner has fully met the demands of the doctrine of exhaustion -- a doctrine that must be applied in each case with an "understanding of its purposes and of the particular administrative scheme involved." McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193. The basic purpose of the exhaustion doctrine is to allow an administrative agency to perform functions within its special competence -- to make a factual record, to apply its expertise, and to correct its own errors so as to moot judicial controversies. Id., at 194-195;

[ 405 U.S. Page 38]

     of the military administrative apparatus had thus been wholly utilized at the time the District Court entered its order deferring consideration of the petitioner's habeas corpus application.

It is clear, therefore, that, if the court-martial charge had not intervened, the District Court would have been wrong in not proceeding to an expeditious consideration of the merits of the petitioner's claim. For the writ of habeas corpus has long been recognized as the appropriate remedy for servicemen who claim to be unlawfully retained in the armed forces. See, e. g., Eagles v. Samuels, 329 U.S. 304, 312; Oestereich v. Selective Service Board, 393 U.S. 233, 235; Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, 489. And, as stated at the outset, that writ is available to consider the plea of an in-service applicant for discharge as a conscientious objector who claims that exhaustion of military administrative procedures has led only to a factually baseless denial of his application. In re Kelly, 401 F.2d 211 (CA5); Hammond v. Lenfest, 398 F.2d 705 (CA2).*fn5

But since a court-martial charge was pending against the petitioner when he sought habeas corpus in March 1970, the respondents submit that the Court of Appeals was correct in holding that the District Court must

[ 405 U.S. Page 40]

     await the final outcome of those charges in the military judicial system before it may consider the merits of the petitioner's habeas corpus claim. Although this argument, too, is framed in terms of "exhaustion," it may more accurately be understood as based upon the appropriate demands of comity between two separate judicial systems.*fn6 Requiring the District Court to defer to the military courts in these circumstances serves the interests of comity, the respondents argue, by aiding the military judiciary in its task of maintaining order and discipline in the armed services and by eliminating "needless friction" between the federal civilian and military judicial systems. The respondents note that the military constitutes a "specialized community governed by a separate discipline from that of the civilian," Orloff v. ...

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