Opinion Analysis: Holding that reserve discharges may self-execute, CAAF finds no personal jurisdiction in United States v. Nettles, No. 14-0754/AF
CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Nettles, __ M.J. __, No. 14-0754/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, July 6, 2015. Declining to apply the requirement for physical delivery of a discharge certificate to reservists not on active duty, CAAF concludes that the appellant was validly discharged on the effective date of his self-executing discharge orders and was not subject to trial by court-martial, despite the fact that his command attempted to retain him in a military status pending trial. The court reverses the decision of the Air Force CCA and the appellant’s sexual offense convictions, and dismisses the charges.
Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.
CAAF granted review of a single issue in this case:
Whether the Air Force had personal jurisdiction over Appellant at the time of his trial.
In 2013 the appellant (a captain in the Air Force Reserve) was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of officer members, of two specifications of conspiracy to commit indecent acts, one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer by engaging in sexual intercourse in the presence of a third person, and a second specification of conduct unbecoming an officer by engaging in sexual intercourse and sodomy in the presence of a third person (he was acquitted of an allegation of rape). He was sentenced to confinement for two months, a reprimand, and to be dismissed.
The charges related to events that occurred in May 2007, while the appellant was on active duty. Three months later, in August 2007, the appellant left active duty and entered the Air Force Reserve. Nearly five years later, in March 2012, he was notified that he was twice passed over for promotion to major and, as a result, was to be separated from the reserves on October 1, 2012, pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 14505.
But in May 2012, the appellant was charged with the offenses at issue. Because of the charges:
The Secretary of the Air Force approved the recall of Appellant to active duty for the purposes of court-martial on July 18, 2012. The special court-martial convening authority’s staff judge advocate asked the Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) to place an administrative hold on Appellant so that he would not be discharged from the service, but the ARPC never did so. Accordingly, a discharge order was generated on September 25, 2012, with an effective date of October 1, 2012.
Slip op. at 2. However, the discharge order was never formally delivered to the appellant because of a shortage of a special card stock used to print an accompanying certificate. Then, “in early November, 2012, the convening authority learned of the erroneously generated order, contacted ARPC, and ARPC rescinded the prior discharge order.” Slip op. at 3.
CAAF’s jurisprudence generally requires three things in order for a discharge to sever personal jurisdiction for a court-martial:
(1) a delivery of a valid discharge certificate; (2) a final accounting of pay; and (3) the undergoing of a “clearing” process as required under appropriate service regulations to separate the member from military service.
Slip op. at 3-4 (quoting United States v. Harmon, 63 M.J. 98, 101 (C.A.A.F. 2006)). These requirements are “based on a civil personnel statute, 10 U.S.C. § 1168(a) (2012).” Slip op. at 4 (citing United States v. Hart, 66 M.J. 273, 275 (C.A.A.F. 2008)). The delivery requirement is at issue in this case. However, delivery cannot “be effective if it is contrary to expressed command intent.” Slip op. at 4. Further, delivery generally requires “actual physical receipt” of the discharge. Slip op. at 5. Under the facts of the case, neither command intent nor actual receipt favor the appellant.
But CAAF “decline[s] to employ the 10 U.S.C. § 1168(a) framework here.” Slip op. at 5.