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10/23/70 Stanley Lawrence Gruca, v. Secretary of the Army

October 23, 1970




Before discussing the basis in the record for our holding, it is well to point out a distinction between this case and several recent Supreme Court cases dealing with conscientious objectors. Here the question is not the nature of the registrant's beliefs and whether these beliefs constitute conscientious objection within the meaning of the statute, but rather the question is whether Gruca was sincere in professing to adhere to the beliefs he cited. Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 90 S. Ct. 1792, 26 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1970) and United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 85 S. Ct. 850, 13 L. Ed. 2d 733 (1965), in contrast to the instant case, presented no question about the sincerity and depth of the registrants' beliefs; the controversy revolved around whether those beliefs constituted conscientious objection within the intendment of the statute. In deciding Gruca's claim the Board stopped at the threshold question of sincerity and therefore it was unnecessary for the Board to consider whether the content of his professed beliefs entitled him to the exemption.


Petition for Rehearing Denied November 19, 1970. Certiorari Denied March 22, 1971. See 401 U.S. 978.


McGowan, Tamm, and MacKinnon, Circuit Judges.


On this appeal ours is the difficult but limited task of reviewing a draft board's finding that the appellant Gruca was not entitled to be classified as a conscientious objector. The difficulty we face is inherent in a process which attempts to distinguish between a sincere belief and one that is not truly held and which for its success must rely in large part on deductions drawn from a registrant's words and demeanor. At the same time the range of our intervention in this process is narrowly limited to determining whether there was any basis in fact for the draft board's finding. Having examined the record before us with great care and having determined that there was a basis for the board's decision, we must affirm the denial of Gruca's application. Our conclusion has been reached with some hesitation, however, based on the reasons which follow.

Although the background of this case is somewhat detailed, we think it necessary to set it forth in order to put the controversy in the proper context. Stanley Lawrence Gruca was born on March 16, 1949; in April of 1967, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he registered with his local draft board (hereafter "the Board") in Ravenna, Ohio. He listed his occupation as "student" but noted that he expected to graduate in June of that year. The Board classified him as a student. (App. 24.) Shortly after graduating from high school, Gruca was notified that he had been reclassified 1-A (available for military induction), and several months thereafter he was tested and found acceptable for induction. (App. 33.) One month later Gruca wrote his Board requesting "Selective Service Form 150 for Conscientious Objector" which he filled out and returned to the Board. In response to the Board's request for a personal interview before evaluating his application, Gruca went before the Board and explained his reasons for requesting the classification. The next day he was notified that his request had been denied and he appealed to the State Appeal Board; that body upheld the Board without comment. (App. 48.)

Several months later Gruca was inducted into the Armed Forces. Thus he did not follow the more customary route in this type of a case by refusing induction and then defending against a prosecution for that refusal on the ground that he was a conscientious objector. Instead, Gruca completed basic training and only thereafter did he resume his claim by applying for a discharge from the Army on conscientious objector grounds. *fn1 The Army then accorded Gruca a full panoply of procedural safeguards but decided not to grant him a discharge.

Gruca then went to court. He filed a habeas corpus action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma seeking his release from the Army. Because at that time he was under the interim jurisdiction of Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Gruca's Oklahoma suit was dismissed; he thereafter brought the same suit here in the District of Columbia. The trial court summarized the gravamen of his petition in the following sentences:

He alleged that the Selective Service Board had no basis in fact for denying his application for exemption from military service by reason of conscientious objection. Alternatively, [Gruca] alleged that the decision of the Army in denying his application for discharge pursuant to Army Regulation 635-20 had no basis in fact and was arbitrary and capricious.

(App. 86.)

The parties submitted the records of the Selective Service and of the Army and, after hearing argument, the court ruled that Gruca had waived his right to challenge the Board's classification "by submitting to induction, serving in the Army, and filing an application for discharge pursuant to Army Regulation 635-20." (App. 86.) The court cited one section of this Regulation (which outlines the procedure for "personal separation" due to conscientious objection) as authority for its finding of waiver. That section reads as follows:

Federal courts have held that a claim to exemption from military service under Selective Service laws must be interposed prior to notice of induction, and failure to make timely claim for exemption constitutes waiver of the right to claim.

(AR 635-20 § 3(b) (1969).) Alternatively the court found that there was a basis in fact for the Board's denial; it also concluded that appellant was not entitled to relief from the Army's refusal to grant him a discharge. (App. 86-87.) The trial judge therefore dismissed Gruca's petition and this appeal was brought.

At the outset we are met with an argument based on the trial court's finding of waiver. There are several aspects to this contention all of which tend to become intermingled, making it difficult to understand the Government's precise position. We have attempted to segregate each aspect to facilitate our discussion on the merits of the Government's argument. It would seem, as a preliminary matter, that the trial court misunderstood the applicability of AR 635-20 § 3(b) because that Regulation deals with applicants who have failed to make a claim for an exemption prior to receiving a notice of induction. As we have noted ...

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