CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Barker, No. 17-0551/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, February 27, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. Two granted issues question the Air Force CCA’s finding of error in the admission of two out of three victim-impact statements offered by the prosecution, but no prejudice to the appellant’s rights:
I. Whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred when it held proper foundation had been laid to admit evidence in aggravation.
II. Whether the Court of Criminal Appeals improperly conducted a review of the prejudice resulting from the military judge’s erroneous admission of evidence in aggravation.
Airman First Class (E-3) Barker pleaded guilty to possession and viewing child pornography. He was not, however, charged with or convicted of any offense related to production or distribution of such materials; a point repeatedly emphasized in his brief. A general court-martial composed of a military judge alone sentenced Barker to confinement for 30 months, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a bad-conduct discharge.
During the sentencing phase of the court-martial the prosecution offered an exhibit consisting of three victim-impact letters dated December 2011, January 2013, and September 2013. All of the letters pre-dated Barker’s offenses. The defense made numerous objections to admission of the letters, but the military judge admitted the exhibit.
On appeal, the Air Force CCA considered the letters under two different rules applicable to such matters: R.C.M. 1001(b)(4), which allows the prosecution to present evidence in aggravation, and R.C.M. 1001A, which implements a crime victim’s Article 6b(a)(4)(B) “right to be reasonably heard at . . . [a] sentencing hearing relating to the offense.” The CCA found (in a published decision analyzed here) that “[w]hile the Prosecution did not indicate whether they were offering the statements under R.C.M. 1001(b)(4) or R.C.M. 1001A(e), both the trial defense counsel and the military judge treated the Prosecution’s offer as a victim exercising her right to be reasonably heard under R.C.M. 1001A.” United States v. Barker, 76 M.J. 748, 754 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2017). The CCA then found that the December and September statements “lacked any evidence that would have permitted the military judge to determine that they were authentic and, if authentic, relevant to Appellant’s court-martial.” 76 M.J. at 756. The January statement, however, “indicated that it was written by the victim of the ‘Vicky series’ child pornography, one video of which Appellant downloaded.” Id. at 756. Accordingly, the CCA found that the January statement was admissible under R.C.M. 1001A, but the December and September statements were not. The CCA then found that the improperly-admitted statements were harmless because “all three statements were from the same victim.” Id. at 757.
CAAF’s review focuses on the January statement that the CCA found admissible.