The Navy-Marine Corps Court has now put its December decisions on its web site. Included in this December batch are three published opinions. We have already looked at the first two, Pflueger and Tingler. The third is United States v. Adams, __ M.J. ___, No. 200600767, 2006 CCA LEXIS 332 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. 2006). Adams is a published case despite the fact that its address on the NMCCA web site ends in “UNPUB.doc” and is a Navy-Marine Corps Court case despite the fact that its LEXIS “Copy w/cite” citation tells you it was decided by the Air Force Court, a problem previously discussed here.
It appears that the Navy-Marine Corps Court has now brought its web site up-to-date. We understand from LCDR Truax that the Coast Guard Court’s web site is always within one working day of being up-to-date. The most recent opinion on the ACCA web site is from 22 December, indicating that as usual it is running in real time or near real time. CAAF’s web site puts up opinions the day they are issued and has recently been running only one working day behind on the Daily Journal — a considerable improvement from past practice. Hhhhmmmm, that leaves out only one military appellate court web site. Who might that be?
NMCCA’s Adams opinion is a 16-page opinion written by Senior Judge Wagner, who is joined by Judges Vincent and Stone. It takes on the unenviable task of explaining why no relief is warranted even though more than FIVE YEARS passed between sentencing and docketing of the case at NMCCA, 1,666 days of which occurred after the CA had already acted.
A major reason for the lengthy published opinion appears to be its recommendation that CAAF reconsider the triggering mechanism for a due process post-trial delay analysis. The opinion criticizes CAAF for “establish[ing] a threshold requirement that is considerably lower than the standard established in Barker.” 2006 CCA LEXIS 332, at *14. But NMCCA acknowledges that “[d]espite our reservations regarding the application of such a sweeping threshold standard, since our superior court has adopted the Smith threshold standard and being bound by the precedential holdings of our superior court, we must apply that standard in this case.” Id. at *16. But the court also “encourage[s] reconsideration by our superior court of the threshold standard triggering application of a due process analysis.” Id. at *16-*17.
In reading this portion of NMCCA’s opinion, I wondered whether the court was writing with an audience of the two new CAAF judges in mind. Is NMCCA attempting to influence their thinking about the post-trial delay issue?
The Navy-Marine Corps Court ultimately concludes that there was a due process violation, beating the goverment about the head and shoulders along the way, e.g., “The failure of the Government in the case to at least put in a minimal effort in providing some reason for the extensive delay in delivering this record to the court is unconscionable.” Id. at *20, n.8. Yet, at the end of the opinion, NMCCA holds that despite the due process violation, it would not grant relief. Nor would NMCCA use its Article 66(c) sentence appropriateness authority to reduce the sentence.
One aspect of NMCCA’s reasoning seems peculiar. In its sentence appropriateness analysis, the court says that the “crimes of which the appellant stands convicted are serious and certainly deserving of harsh punishment.” Id. at *34. Yet the opinion tells us that SSgt Adams was convicted of “unauthorized absence, dereliction of duty, and five specifications of wrongful appropriation.” Id. at *1. Maybe there is some reason NMCCA didn’t share with us that explains why these particular Article 86, 92, and 121 offenses were more ghastly than the norm, but these don’t sound like particularly “serious” crimes crying out for “harsh punishment.”
NMCCA notes that this cases arose before the Moreno presumption took effect. Id. at *19. So perhaps this case is like the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the Treaty of Ghent had already ended the War of 1812: it will make the skirmish’s winner (the government? NMCCA?) feel better, but it won’t have any real impact on the issue’s ultimate resolution. But, unlike the Americans and the British facing each other at Chalmette Plantation, NMCCA knew about the larger conflict’s resolution. The court nevertheless weighed in with a 16-page published opinion. NMCCA seems to hope that the Treaty of Ghent’s terms might still be subject to revision.