In an interesting decision on a Government petition for extraordinary relief in United States v. Lieutenant Colonel Jones, Military Judge, and Howell, Real Party in Interest, No. 201200264 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 29, 2015) (en banc) (link to slip op.), the Navy-Marine Corps CCA splits 4-4 (one judge did not participate) to grant only a small part of the relief requested by the Government.

Our #4 Military Justice Story of 2014 included discussion of the Marine Corps case of United States v. Howell, in which the appearance of unlawful command influence led to the reversal of a sexual assault conviction. The CCA authorized a rehearing, and the accused was restored to his rank of E-6 and to full duty pending that second trial. However, even though he wore E-6 rank insignia and performed commensurate duties, the accused was only paid at the E-1 rate (based on the Government’s interpretation of the applicable military pay statutes).

The accused complained about his pay, asserting that he was entitled to be paid as an E-6, and the military judge agreed. The military judge then found that the Government’s actions constituted illegal pretrial punishment in violation of Article 13, and he ordered that the accused receive credit against any sentence to confinement in the form of one day of confinement credit for each day of pay at the E-1 rate beginning on the date the original findings and sentence were set aside.

The trial proceeded and the accused was convicted and sentenced to confinement for nine years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge. The military judge’s ruling resulted in approximately 11 months of confinement credit to the accused. The Government then sought extraordinary relief from the CCA, prior to the convening authority taking action in the case.

The CCA’s lead opinion, authored by Judge Marks, finds that the military judge erred only in setting the start date for the credit as the date when the findings were first set aside, and that the credit shouldn’t begin until the date accused was released from confinement. However, Judge Marks concludes that the military judge “did not usurp his judicial power by ruling on SSgt Howell’s complaint of illegal pretrial pay deprivation.” Slip op. at 14.

The dissenting opinion, authored by Senior Judge Brubaker, would reverse the military judge entirely:

I would have found it improper to grant any credit here. Unlike cases relied on by the majority, this case does not implicate punitive actions by command or detention officials – or any other government officials. It presents, instead, a pure pay entitlement question. In my view, the military judge misused Article 13 to litigate and remedy the correctness of an agency’s good faith pay entitlement determination.

Slip op. at 16. Senior Judge Brubaker concludes that “such disputes belong in Congressionally-designated Article III courts.” Slip op. at 17.

The accused filed a writ-appeal petition at CAAF on January 19, 2016.

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