There was disagreement at the CAAFlog confab as to whether the case of United States v. Lakin should make the top-10 list. After all, it is a dog-bites-man story. The military justice system proceeded in a way that was not merely predictable but predicted. The case makes our top-10 list largely because the dog was barking-mad and there was a three-ring flea circus performing on its back.
One of the striking things about the Lakin case is how well the military officers involved in the system functioned amidst all the barking madness. The first military justice practitioner to touch the case was MAJ Kemkes, who would ultimately be the detailed defense counsel. During the court-martial, we learned that he repeatedly advised LTC Lakin that his orders were legal and he was obligated to follow them.
Those responsible for making the charging decisions followed the KISS principle. They didn’t get exotic, though they easily could have. Nor did they pile on. Rather, they charged common, easy-to-prove offenses in five specifications, two of which were pled in the alternative.
While one trial counsel was relieved early in the case after it was alleged that he made some inflammatory remarks, the three young trial counsel who litigated the case did a superb job. CPT O’Beirne’s sentencing argument was particularly impressive.
But the biggest kudos go to Judge Lind. She went to great lengths to promote openness at the trial, including authorizing a closed circuit video feed of the proceedings into a media center to ensure that those interested in watching the case wouldn’t be turned away if the courtroom’s 60-seat capacity had been exceeded. Throughout the trial, she took the time to explain to those watching what was happening, such as when she went into detail about what an R.C.M. 802 conference is and why they are held. And she was remarkably restrained during the occasional birther outbursts that punctuated the proceedings. Any rational observer saw a model of careful justice during which the accused engaged in a 90-minute dialog explaining under oath why he was guilty of four of the five charged offenses and a panel of eight colonels concluded that the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the fifth. And while the amount of confinement adjudged was less than some (including me) predicted, the military justice system’s sentencing voting rules encourage the members to adjudge the lightest acceptable sentence. It appears that the system worked as designed in the Lakin case.
Any military justice practitioner watching the trial would have been very proud of the way our system functioned. Some of the birthers present derided the court-martial as a “kangaroo court.” It wasn’t. The trial demonstrated once again the beauty of the Care inquiry. How could anyone reasonably believe that the result was unfair when the accused himself admitted that his conduct was criminal and repeatedly stated under oath not only that the orders he received were lawful, but that he knew at the time he violated them that they were lawful?
Of course, the entire case was an effort to misuse the military justice system for a political purpose. Such an effort was doomed to fail. LTC Lakin’s immolation of his career was also unnecessary. His decision to willfully disobey orders was made in an attempt to acquire the Holy Grail of birtherism: a copy of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate. The New York Times reported yesterday that Hawaii’s new governor — Neil Abercrombie, who had been friends with President Obama’s parents while the President’s father was studying at the University of Hawaii — announced that he is seeking legal authority to “release more explicit documentation of Mr. Obama’s birth on Aug. 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital.”
LTC Lakin will likely be released from confinement — and no doubt placed on appellate leave — sometime around mid-May. At some point after that, ACCA will almost certainly affirm the findings and sentence in his case. Any petition to CAAF will likely be denied. The Secretary of the Army or his designee will then approve the dismissal. And the case of United States v. Lakin will come to its inevitable conclusion.