Reversing due to human lie detector evidence, the Army CCA limits a sentence on rehearing because of post-trial delay
In a published opinion in United States v. Jackson, __ M.J. __, No. 20120159 (A. Ct. Crim. App. May 18, 2015) (link to slip op.), the Army CCA finds plain error in the testimony of a criminal investigator about the appellant’s confession to sexually assaulting his teenage step-daugher:
The testimony presented SA K-O [the investigator -zds] as taking master’s level courses with CIA agents at the National Center for Credibility Assessment. She testified about her ability to discern verbal and nonverbal signs of deception. Special Agent K-O told the panel that she would move from interview to interrogation mode when she saw sufficient signs of deception. And, when questioning appellant, she did just that after appellant did not answer well in response to shock-absorbing questions. Special Agent K-O testified she told appellant she thought he was lying when he denied the allegations. While describing appellant’s eventual confession, SA K-O stated, “he got this really like faraway look in his eyes like he was reliving it.” Finally, SA KO told the panel that she cuts off denials when a suspect exhibits behavior leading her to believe otherwise.
Cumulatively, this testimony constituted human lie detector testimony.
Slip op. at 8. Human lie detector testimony was the issue in CAAF’s decision in United States v. Knapp, 73 M.J. 33 (C.A.A.F. Jan 15, 2014) (CAAFlog case page), and it is improper. In Jackson, the defense asserted that the appellant’s confession to sexually assaulting his step-daughter was false. The Army CCA reverses the appellant’s conviction for two specifications of abusive sexual contact with a child in part because the agent’s testimony went to “a central – if not the central – issue of the case: whether appellant’s confession to touching his stepdaughter was truthful.” Slip op. at 10. The CCA notes that:
While every interrogation and confession is unique, there was nothing special or unusual regarding appellant’s confession. As SA K-O noted, criminal accused often deny, then slowly make admissions, and eventually confess. The government can easily admit such confessions without superfluous testimony from CID agents acting as human lie detectors. The government is not permitted to present human lie detector testimony in rebutting defense attempts to show such confessions are involuntary, coerced, or false.
Slip op. at 12. Then, because the convening authority did not act until 739 days after the court-martial adjourned, the CCA limits “the possible punishment at a rehearing to a punitive discharge, two years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and reduction to the grade of E-1,” unless new charges are added during the rehearing. Slip op. at 15-16.
Notably, the appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of conspiracy to violate a lawful order, willful disobedience of a superior commissioned officer, and the two specifications of abusive sexual contact with a child, and he was sentenced to confinement for four years and a dishonorable discharge. While the CCA sets aside the sex offense convictions, it affirms the conspiracy and disobedience convictions.