For some reason my computer is refusing to access CAAF’s web site. Phil Cave was kind enough to send me two opinions that CAAF issued today.
The first is United States v. Marshall, __ M.J. ___, No. 08-0779/AR (C.A.A.F. June 18, 2009). Judge Stucky wrote the opinion of the court. Judge Ryan concurred in the result. I understand that the Marshall opinion is available here.
The issue in Marshall was whether the military judge could properly convict the accused by exceptions and substitutions of escaping from a different person than was alleged in the spec to which the accused pleaded not guilty. No, rules CAAF.
After being apprehended by local authorities and then turned over to military custody, PVT Marshall walked away while he was on an outside smoke break (!) during his pretrial confinement processing.
The spec alleged that the accused escaped from the custody of CPT Kreitman. The evidence showed that CPT Kreitman didn’t personally take PVT Marshall into his custody, but rather ordered one of his subordinates to take custody of PVT Marshall from civilian law enforcement authorities. The defense moved for a finding of not guilty under R.C.M. 917, but the military judge denied the motion. The military judge later convicted PVT Marshall by exceptions and substitutions of escaping from the subordinate’s custody.
The majority initially rejected the argument that the issue was forfeited, relying on the defense’s motion for finding of not guilty and ruling that the defense didn’t need to reiterate its same arguments once the military judge found PVT Marshall guilty by exceptions and substitutions.
CAAF rejected the government’s argument that the substitution of the subordinate for CPT Kreitman was a minor variance. CAAF concluded that “the substitution was material.” The court explained, “The military judge convicted Appellant by exceptions and substitutions of an offense that was substantially different from that described in the specification upon which he was arraigned.” The court continued, “Although the nature of the offense remained the same — escape from custody — by substituting SSG Fleming for CPT Kreitman as the custodian from whom Appellant escaped, the military judge changed the identity of the offense against which the accused had to defend. This denied him the opportunity to defend against the charge.” Id., slip op. at 8 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court also found that PVT Marshall was prejudiced by this variance, observing that his trial strategy focused on showing that he was never in CPT Kreitman’s custody.
CAAF set aside the finding of guilty to escape from custody and dismissed the charge. The court also remanded the case to ACCA for reassessment of the sentence.
Judge Ryan concurred in the result. She disagreed with the majority that the motion for finding of not guilty preserved the variance issue. She concluded that the issue was forfeited by the defense’s failure to object on variance grounds, absent plain error. Finding plain error, she agreed with the majority’s disposition of the case.
CAAF’s other decision today was United States v. Wilson, __ M.J. ___, No. 09-0010/AR (C.A.A.F. June 18, 2009). I understand that a copy of Wilson is available here. Chief Judge Effron wrote for the majority. Judge Stucky dissented.
SSG Wilson was charged with raping his stepdaughter on divers occasions. The military judge found him guilty of rape, but excepted the “on divers occasions” language. CAAF observes that by “so doing, the military judge convicted Appellant of a single rape, while acquitting Appellant of multiple incidents of rape.” Id., slip op. at 3. After a detailed recitation of the facts, CAAF added, “The military judge found Appellant guilty of Specification 2 of Charge II, excepting the words ‘on divers occasions.’ The military judge did not indicate on the record or through substitutions to the specification the rape incident of which she was convicting Appellant. Neither party asked for clarification as to which alleged rape incident formed the basis of the conviction.” Id., slip op. at 9.
ACCA affirmed, explaining in a footnote that is was sure it could identify the incident for which the military judge convicted SSG Wilson of rape: “The victim in this case unequivocally testified that she was raped on only one occasion, and the parties accordingly shaped their closing arguments to address the only assertion of rape described by the victim. Thus, we find no ambiguity in the finding at issue.” Id., slip op. at 10 (quoting unpublished ACCA opinion).
CAAF explained that during the government’s case in chief, it presented evidence of two rapes. CAAF repeated its by-now familiar holding from United States v. Walters, 58 M.J. 391 (C.A.A.F. 2003), that where a divers occasions spec is changed through exceptions and substitutions to a single occasion finding of guilty, that “[i]f there is no indication on the record which of the alleged incidents forms the basis of the conviction, then the findings of guilt are ambiguous and the Court of Criminal Appeals cannot perform a factual sufficiency review.” Id., slip op. at 12. In this case, “[b]ecause evidence of multiple incidents of rape was presented at trial, the military judge was required to indicate the single incident for which she convicted Appellant.” Id., slip op. at 13. CAAF explained, “Here, the record does not contain either substituted language or a statement on the record that would identify whether the military judge convicted Appellant of rape for the bathroom incident or the bedroom incident. Without such clarification, the findings of the present case are fatally ambiguous.” Id., slip op. at 13-14.
CAAF remedied the error by setting aside the finding of guilty to rape and dismissing the specification with prejudice and setting aside the sentence. CAAF authorized a rehearing on the sentence.
Judge Stucky dissented, concluding that ACCA properly affirmed the finding of guilty. He reasoned that the evidence would have permitted the military judge to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that SSG Wilson raped his stepdaughter on only one particular occasion. That occasion must, therefore, be the basis for the finding of guilty and ACCA’s affirmance.
The outcome in this case seems like an enormous windfall to SSG Wilson. There may be a very good answer to this question, but here’s what I don’t get. Rather than setting aside the conviction and dismissing the rape specification, why isn’t the right remedy to remand the case to the military judge to clarify what incident was the basis of the conviction, thereby permitting further review by ACCA?