As we continue to hear the drumbeat for more convictions, harsher sentences, and reduced access to clemency in the sexual assault world, the fallout from MCRD Parris Island continues.  As Dwight ML noted the other day, CAAF has granted several petitions relating to some intemperate and nonjudicial remarks of the military judge assigned in that area.  Now, see United States v. Chambers.

Chambers guilty plea was taken (no problem with that), and sentence adjudged the day of the nonjudicial remarks of the military judge.

The TC argued for 90 days and the DC 30 days as a confinement sentence.  The military judge gave eight months.

NMCCA set aside the sentence and ordered a rehearing (or a sentence of “no punishment).

8 Responses to “The fallout continues”

  1. k fischer says:

    Almost tripling the sentence requested by the Government was simply irresistible for Lt. Col. Robert Palmer because he was unlawfully influenced by the Commandant who ordered Marines to be more strict on criminal offenses.  

  2. Phil Cave says:

    Actually I don’t think Greg needed the Commandant to influence him.

  3. Zachary Spilman says:

    “Inter alia, the military judge made the following statements, captured in the statements provided by the two junior officers:

    a. The Commandant is ordering us to be more strict on criminal cases. We need more convictions.

    b. As trial counsel, we need to go after these scumbags with the “fullest veracity” (sic).

    United States v. Chambers, No. 201200407, slip op. at 3 (N-M.Ct.Crim.App. Mar. 19, 2013) (unpublished) (emphasis added).

    These comments were made on the morning of June 21, 2012. That afternoon, the same military judge accepted Corporal (E-4) Chambers’ pleas of guilty to selling military property without authority and wrongful use of a controlled substance, in violation of Articles 108 and 112a, UCMJ. He was sentenced to confinement for eight months, forfeiture of $950 pay per month for eight months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The convening authority approved the sentence as adjudged, suspending all confinement and forfeitures pursuant to a pretrial agreement.

    The record suggests that, on the afternoon of the trial, trial defense counsel was not yet aware of the military judge’s comments from the morning training session. Within the week, however, the military judge was voir dired and challenged in an unrelated case based upon the comments, and shortly thereafter was reassigned from the trial judiciary upon his request. In his clemency request, trial defense counsel referenced these developments and asserted legal error based upon the judge’s comments: he requested that the bad-conduct discharge be suspended and that the appellant instead be separated administratively. The CA complied with the pretrial agreement, but did not grant any other relief.

    Chambers, slip op. at 4 (citations to record omitted). See also, Col Ralph F. Miller, The Lost Battalion, Marine Corps Gazette, Jan. 2007 (discussed here).

    In the hours immediately before he presided over the appellant’s case, the military judge elected to provide training to junior officers on how to be an effective trial counsel. Drawing on his own experience as a prosecutor, the military judge apparently attempted to “fire up” these prosecutors-in-training to make them passionate about cases, victims, and convictions. The format, audience, and themes were ill-advised at best. But the use of derogatory terms such as “scumbags” to describe accused servicemembers, and the terms “morons” and “knuckledraggers” to describe panel members catapulted this problematic training session out of the realm of bad ideas and into the realm of apparent bias, as these comments depart markedly from the neutral and detached posture that trial judges must always maintain.

    Regrettably, the timing of the statements suggests that the military judge expressed these views within hours of presiding over this case. As we have noted in previous opinions regarding this same assigned error, the military judge focused his training on the performance of trial counsel, and the need for trial counsel to be more aggressive. He then walked into court that afternoon, heard a compelling sentencing case from the defense and without explanation adjudged a sentence significantly harsher than that requested by trial counsel.

    A reasonable person who observed or had knowledge of the comments made during the morning’s training session and the afternoon’s court-martial would have a serious question as to the fairness and impartiality of the court.

    Chambers, slip op. at 6 (emphasis added).

    Thirdly, and most critically, we turn to the question of the public’s confidence in our judicial process. It is imperative that a sitting judge personify absolute neutrality in any litigation over which he presides.

    Chambers, slip op. at 7-8 (emphasis added).

    …we note that the defense counsel brought the matter to the CA’s attention in his clemency request, and that the CA took no curative action.

    Chambers, slip op. at 8.

    Because this was a guilty plea, the fairness of the findings remains unquestioned. Therefore, setting aside the sentence alone will place the parties in a position to conduct a rehearing on sentence before a military judge whose appearance is not in question.

    Chambers, slip op. at 8 (emphasis added).

  4. K fischer says:

    I wonder if Chambers looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Might as well face it your addicted to prescription painkillers.”

  5. K fischer says:

    ***you’re

  6. just a judge advocate says:

    I served with LtCol Palmer as my Senior Defense Counsel and he is a brilliant person and excellent litigator.  I am not defending his words or his actions, but he is a good man.

  7. Tami says:

    He was an SDC?  Never would have guessed after reading what he said.

  8. Phil Cave says:

    Was he not in Okinawa at the time of the issue with DC serving as TC at the same time as DC issue?