CAAF rejected a Care inquiry challenge today in United States v. Riddle, __ M.J. ___, No. 08-0739/AR (C.A.A.F. May 12, 2009). Judge Stucky wrote for the majority. Chief Judge Effron, joined by Judge Erdmann, dissented.

Judge Stucky offers this helpful BLUF synopsis of the opinion:

Appellant asserts that her guilty pleas were improvident because the military judge did not explain or discuss the defense of lack of mental responsibility during the plea inquiry. We hold that Appellant’s pleas were provident and that under the facts of this case the military judge was not obligated to explicitly explain or discuss that defense with Appellant.

Id., slip op. at 2.

The majority explains that “[a] military judge can presume, in the absence of contrary circumstances, that the accused is sane and, furthermore, that counsel is competent.” If “the accused’s statements or material in the record indicate a history of mental disease or defect on the part of the accused, the military judge must determine whether that information raises either a conflict with the plea and thus the possibility of a defense or only the ‘mere possibility’ of conflict. The former requires further inquiry on the part of the military judge, the latter does not.” Id., slip op. at 9-10 (internal citation omitted). In this case, the majority concluded, “The record of trial makes clear that neither Appellant’s conduct nor her mental health history created more than the mere possibility of conflict with her pleas.” Id., slip op. at 11. The majority proceeded to set out specific facts from the record supporting this conclusion. Id., slip op. at 12-13.

Chief Judge Effron offers this helpful BLUF synopsis of the dissent:

The plea colloquy in this case between Appellant and the military judge raised a possible defense of lack of mental responsibility under Rule for Courts-Martial (R.C.M.) 916(k). These circumstances required the military judge to engage in a further inquiry to resolve the apparent inconsistency raised by the plea colloquy. The military judge did not do so. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent from the conclusion of the majority opinion that the military judge did not err in the conduct of the plea inquiry.

Riddle, dissent slip op. at 1 (internal citation omitted). Looking at the facts, the dissent concludes that the “trial developed information that presented more than a ‘mere possibility’ of a defense, raising ‘a possible defense’ of lack of mental responsibility requiring further inquiry by the military judge.” Id. at 6 (internal citation omitted).

Like so many CAAF decisions this year, this case doesn’t appear to present a doctrinal disagreement. Rather, the court’s judges performed a detailed analysis of the facts and came to different conclusions, both of which were defensible and well-defended.

As a matter of judicial craftsmanship, both the majority and the dissent read like majority opinions. It makes me wonder whether Chief Judge Effron was originally in the majority and one of the judges flipped. Of course, we’ll never know.

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