Last year, in United States v. Collins, 78 M.J. 530 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 23, 2018) (discussed here), the Air Force CCA applied CAAF’s decision in United States v. Mangahas, 77 M.J. 220 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 6, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), to reverse a rape conviction and dismiss the charge. The CCA took that action because – based on Mangahas – the statute of limitations in Collins’ case expired more than ten years before he was charged.

The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force certified the case to CAAF (discussed here), questioning whether Mangahas applies and whether Collins could raise the statute of limitations for the first time on appeal. CAAF answered both of those questions in favor of Collins in United States v. Briggs, 78 M.J. 289 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 22, 2019) (CAAFlog case page), and last month the court summarily affirmed the Air Force CCA’s decision dismissing the charge (noted here).

The Air Force Government Appellate Division, however, filed a motion asking CAAF to stay its decision. Furthermore, throughout the entire process the Air Force refused to release Collins from confinement (he had been sentenced to confinement for 198 months, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge). As a result, last week Collins filed a writ petition at CAAF seeking an order that he be released from confinement.

Today CAAF granted that order:

Upon consideration of Appellant’s motion to stay this Court’s order of March 12, 2019, affirming the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals or to extend the time to comply with that order, Appellee’s answer, and Appellee’s petition for extraordinary relief in the nature of a writ of mandamus or in the alternative, a writ of habeas corpus, we note that Appellee is still confined despite the sole charge having been dismissed by the lower court. We also note that Appellant has not petitioned for reconsideration of this Court’s order. In that context, and where there is no further action to be taken by the President or the Secretary, the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force “shall instruct the convening authority to take action in accordance with” the decision of the lower court and the order of this Court. Article 67 (e), Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 867(e) (2012). Finally, this Court has jurisdiction to entertain the petition and issue the writ of habeas corpus because the case is before us on direct review and appellate review is not yet complete under Article 57(c)(l)(B)(iii)(I), UCMJ (as amended by the Military Justice Act of 2016, the legislatively designated short title for Division E-Uniform Code of Military Justice Reform of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017). National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Pub. L. No. 114-328, § 5302(a), 130 Stat. 2000, 2922-23 (2016) (effective date Jan. 1, 2019). Accordingly, it is, by the Court, this 3rd day of April, 2019,

ORDERED:

That Appellant’s motion to stay or extend time is denied; and Appellee’ s petition for a writ of habeas corpus is granted. All rights, privileges, and property of which Appellee has been deprived are hereby ordered restored. The Judge Advocate General shall direct the immediate release of Appellee from confinement.

46 Responses to “CAAF grants Collins a writ of habeas corpus”

  1. Charlie Gittins says:

    Every time I think the Air Force JAG doesn’t understand the law, they (senior staff) demonstrates that they are intentionally obstinate.  There was no legal basis to hold this guy in confinement, yet the USAF refused to release him without an order from CAAF.  Shaking my head ruefully.  Who gives Collins back those days he should have been free?   

  2. Michael Lowrey says:

    Can’t say that I’m at all surprised. The government (Air Force) position in this case has been pretty out there, going back to arguing at AFCCA and then CAAF that somehow CAAF’s decision in Mangahas just shouldn’t apply to Collins. Why? Well because… Yes, just because.

  3. Bill Cassara says:

    Disclaimer: I am Collins’ appellate counsel. Charlie is absolutely correct. It should have never came to this. The AF has done everything it can to keep Collins in confinement, including waiting until the last day to file briefs before AFCCA and CAAF.  And Feres bars him from suing.

  4. TC says:

    Charlie, come on, “who gives Collins back those days he should have been free?”  Let’s not pretend this is some horrific travesty.  The guy spent an extra 3 weeks in the brig, and ultimately did 2 years of a 16-year sentence.  It’s not like he was exonerated based on newly-discovered evidence.  He got lucky that there was a change to the SOL in his case.  Something tells me he’s thanking his lucky stars, not regretting the 3 weekends he’ll never get back.

  5. Zachary D Spilman says:

    Who gives Collins back those days he should have been free?

    Nobody can give him the time. But DFAS will give him the money.

  6. J.M. says:

    It’s despicable that anyone would trivialize the government refusing to release someone after their conviction was overturned. Including gaming the system by waiting until the last minute to file briefs. It’s dishonest to claim it was only 2 weeks when the AFCCA dismissed the charges last July.
    How does that work with someone kept in the brig after charges are dismissed? Are they allowed to wear rank again? Treated with the respect that a senior NCO is due by the guards?

  7. Justice says:

    “Let’s not pretend this is some horrific travesty.  The guy spent an extra 3 weeks in the brig, and ultimately did 2 years of a 16-year sentence.  It’s not like he was exonerated based on newly-discovered evidence.  He got lucky that there was a change to the SOL in his case.  Something tells me he’s thanking his lucky stars, not regretting the 3 weekends he’ll never get back.”
     

    You obviously didn’t read the original Appelate brief and other arguments that were unsettled after it was overturned on Mangahas last July. You are right about one thing, he is thanking his lucky stars, because he as an innocent man finally getting justice after the Air Force railroaded him. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    Keeping someone confined, restricting their freedom, when they should’ve been freed, solely based on the Air Force JAG having sour grapes is a “travesty.” Those that think otherwise should probably find other employment instead of practicing law. 

  9. David A. says:

    Was the habeas route tried after AFCCA’s decision?

  10. Like it Is says:

    Airmen outside of the JAG Corps who intentionally drag their feet to avoid doing their duty end up being punished for that dereliction, with the full-throated approval of the same sorts of JAG Corps officers that just thumbed their nose at the rule of law in this case.
    The Air Force Judge Advocate General should be ashamed that a court of civilian judges had to, unanimously, order him to do what was so clearly not only his job, but Justice.

  11. Allan says:

    Just to be clear:  Collins was found guilty of rape.  He is no “innocent”.  On the other hand, the SOL had run, so the government could not punish him under the UCMJ.  So, although he did it, beyond a reasonable doubt, conviction was improper.  Am I crying for this guy?  Not really.  Am I sympathetic to the position of TJAG USAF?  Not in the least.  IMHO, the actions of both are criminal.  Collins ruined a person’s life forever.  The TJAG ruined Collins’s life for a few months.

  12. Charlie Gittins says:

    TC — I wonder how much a travesty you would consider it if you or your family member was required to spend 3 weeks in confinement unknowing when, and if, you would be released by your jailer.  I am guessing you’d be pretty pissed and make a lot of bitchy noises.  Good job, Bill, well done.   

  13. DCGoneGalt says:

    I share the sense that this is unfair . . . but this has been the preferred course of action for multiple TJAGs/Gov’t Appellate chiefs in the AF.  Do other services release the Accused/Convicted in this scenario?  And, if so, how do they do it (i.e. what paperwork is required to actually have the convening authority/confinement official release the Accused/Convicted)?

  14. Andy Pollock says:

    This is not a change, they did the same thing back in 1996, when I worked at OCJA at USDB in a case.  Eventually, CAAF did the same thing and ordered person released.  AF had transferred him to a Navy Facility after USDB told them there was no basis to hold him anymore.  Been awhile, but if I remember right Intermediate AF Court found accused not guilty as a matter of fact, case was in Iceland.

  15. Justice says:

    Just to be clear:  Collins was found guilty of rape.  He is no “innocent”.  On the other hand, the SOL had run, so the government could not punish him under the UCMJ.  So, although he did it, beyond a reasonable doubt, conviction was improper.  Am I crying for this guy?  Not really.  Am I sympathetic to the position of TJAG USAF?  Not in the least.  IMHO, the actions of both are criminal.  Collins ruined a person’s life forever.  The TJAG ruined Collins’s life for a few months.

    Collins is not guilty, and has been ruled legally innocent since last July. You mention beyond a reasonable doubt, that is laughable in the current climate with 120 cases, the investigations are conducted to appease the government and secure convictions, including cherry-picking jury panels. As pointed out in my above post, this may have been overturned on Mangahas, but there were still arguments that weren’t addressed. 
    You may not lose sleep at night over this, but I am sure that if he has a wife and children they have. I hope that one day we are privy to what the real facts in this case. 

  16. TC says:

    “Ruled legally innocent.”  Right, cause that’s a thing.
    I agree that this guy had to be released.  Laws must be followed.  But a many who was properly convicted at the time walked free 14 years early because of a change in the law.  It was the proper result.  It doesn’t change the acts he committed.  

  17. rmchl says:

    Allan says:
    April 4, 2019 at 9:03 AM  

    Just to be clear:  Collins was found guilty of rape.  He is no “innocent”.  On the other hand, the SOL had run, so the government could not punish him under the UCMJ.  So, although he did it, beyond a reasonable doubt, conviction was improper.  Am I crying for this guy?  Not really.  Am I sympathetic to the position of TJAG USAF?  Not in the least.  IMHO, the actions of both are criminal.  Collins ruined a person’s life forever.  The TJAG ruined Collins’s life for a few months.

    This is concerning for a plethera of reasons. 

  18. ed says:

    I suggest beyond the decision on SOL there is a real issue of putting on a trial so many years after the alleged actions took place.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I guess he was found guilty BYOD of 2/3rds by jurors, who are not peers, that were hand picked by the person who sent the guy to trial. Justice Kavanaugh better thank his lucky stars the military justice system never had jurisdiction over him. He most likely would’ve been found guilty by the Gillibrand & Co. Art 120 process just like Collins was.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Let’s also look at the facts:
    – Victim states she was assaulted in 2000, claims she didn’t know who it was initially, denies it was a course instructor.
    – Claims she lied and that she knows who did it, but doesn’t want to “break up a family.”
    – Separates from the USAF in 2003, rejoins in 2007.
    – Makes restricted sexual assault report in 2011, separates again in 2013.
    – Makes a unrestricted report to the CoJ at Sheppard in 2014. 
    – Referred to trial in 2016, tried and found guilty in 2016.
    Collins was charged and found guilty for a crime that occurred 16 years previous, with no physical evidence since there were no witnesses and the SAFE kit was destroyed in 2002, that he plead not guilty to.
    There’s no reasonable doubt for someone listening to a complaining witness/victim, who lied which is also a crime, who changed their mind multiple times in the last 16 years? Of course not. That’s not going to happen with those panel members who are trained by the military to take whatever the complaining witness/victim says as gospel, regardless of applying logic to her story.

  21. And another thing... says:

    I have a question that is not related to the issue of whether TJAG keeping the guy in jail is “real bad,” “only just a little bad,” or “not quite as bad as actually raping somebody”…
    — It’s nice to see CAAF concede it has jurisdiction over a writ… I wasn’t sure there for a minute.  Don’t they typically kick those to the federal courts first?  Or is that only if the case is no longer in front of them?  And if the case is still in front of them, is a writ necessary?  Didn’t the CAAF entertain a motion last year?  Something to do with Hasan wanting capital qualified counsel I think.  Why not file a motion for approriate relief with CAAF in this case too? — Requesting they order the release of the “ruled legally innocent” client…  Just wondering.

  22. Zachary D Spilman says:

    I guess he was found guilty BYOD of 2/3rds by jurors, who are not peers, that were hand picked by the person who sent the guy to trial.

    Not jurors.

  23. Vulture says:

    Is Briggs still in confinement?  Impossible because he was only sentenced to five months.  So one wonders what was to be accomplished by all of this.

  24. Megan Hoffman says:

    I don’t care what Collins may or may not have done.  His conviction was thrown out, and his sentence with it. As a consequence, every day that he spent in confinement afterward was stolen from him. The USAF can restore his rank, give him back the money he forfeited, and pay him his back pay, but the time he spent in the brig can never be restored to him. We shouldn’t temper our outrage at a powerful institution’s wrongdoing because we think that the person wronged by that institution is a bad guy.  

  25. TC says:

    It’s not a zero sum game Megan.  You can be as outraged as you’d like at the Air Force, and still not feel any sympathy for a convicted rapist whose case was overturned not on the facts, but on a change to the SOL.  

  26. stewie says:

    TC sometimes I agree with you but sometimes you exhibit a complete lack of any healthy skepticism of the process that I think does you a disservice. A 20 year he said she said case with no apparent other evidence is not exactly compelling regardless of whether there was a conviction.

  27. And another thing... says:

    TC – I think that’s Megan’s point.  Stated another way, “even though you don’t feel any sympathy for a convicted rapist, you can still be outraged at the institution’s wrongdoing.”

  28. TC says:

    Stewie, I’m not going to be inherently skeptical of a proceeding I know nothing about.  I have no idea if the evidence was compelling or not.  The fact that the members gave a 16 year sentence suggets to me it probably was, but I understand that may not be the case.  All I know is this guy was convicted of rape, and his conviction was overturned because of something that had nothing to do with the facts of the case.  I only commented because Charlie asked who would give him his days in confinement back, as though he’d been exonerated based on DNA evidence.  Feeling a lack of sympathy for a convicted rapist who got out of jail more than a decade early doesn’t really feel like a controversial position to me.  

  29. Tami a/k/a Princess Leia says:

    TC, you should really go into a different line of work.  Your attitude towards this injustice is precisely what is wrong with the Air Force’s stance to keep persecuting cases like this based on specious arguments that aren’t supported by the law.  There was no “change” to the SOL–it was always 5 years.  His conviction was overturned last year, and the sentence thrown out with it–he deserved to be released back then, and deserved to be released the minute CAAF affirmed AFCCA’s decision.  Doesn’t matter why his conviction was thrown out–it was thrown out, period.  Collins should never have been in jail to begin with, and the fact that you don’t see that injustice, or remain willfully blind to it, is disturbing on multiple levels.
     
    It’s unfortunate there are more victims like Collins and Briggs.

  30. Vulture says:

    TC stay right where you are.

  31. Vulture says:

    Balance in the Force.

  32. Isaac Kennen says:

    I agree with Vulture. Stay, TC.
    Lawyers do not need to demonstrate sympathy for the devil. Indeed, sometimes the devil is your own client. 
    But they do still have to do their job. And, a lawyer that turns a blind eye to willful dereliction by government actors is no lawyer at all. They’re a heathen in a clerical collar. 

  33. DawG says:

    Collins was convicted on good evidence.
    I was the SPCMCA SJA on the case.  After the Article 32, I recommended dismissal of the charges.  Obviously, my recommendation was considered but disregarded.  The trial counsel on the case did a great job investigating despite believing it would be nearly impossible to get a conviction.  Trial counsel did uncover a compelling piece of evidence.  The victim was brutally beaten in Collins’ home during the rape.  While being held down and raped, she focused on a family portrait hanging above the couch in the living room.  During the OSI investigation that took place after her unrestricted report (by the way, she reported inadvertently while seeking information), she described that picture in great detail.  She provided the age and gender of the people in it, which order they were sitting it, what they were wearing, etc.  She would have had no reason to see the picture otherwise; Collins was her tech school instructor.  She would never have been to his residence and Collins said she was never there.  Collins’ wife said that she never had the portrait hanging in their house because she didn’t like the way she looked at it.  Collins said he did not have it at work and the victim would never have seen it.
    During the pre-trial investigation, trial counsel discovered a photograph of the portrait hanging over the couch on the wall.  It looked just at the victim described.  The photograph was evidence taken by OSI and fully disclosed to defense counsel, but they were not aware of the significant of it.  In 2 dramatic moments during trial, during the cross examinations of Collins’ wife and of Collins himself, trial counsel exposed the lie about the portrait and confronted both witnesses with the photograph of the portrait hanging in the house.  That was the moment the trial was lost.  You could see the reaction on the panel members faces.  You could see the defeat in the face of the accused.  There are not many “Perry Mason” moments in trials.  This was one of them.  Yes, there is a lot more to this case and there were many valid critiques of the victims motives and credibility.  Those were all brought out at trial and assessed by the panel who had all the evidence.
    So those of you who are crying about a wrongly-convicted accused, unless you have read the full transcript, get over it.  Even then, it would be hard for the transcript to show what the trial was like after the portrait issue.  I didn’t think this case should have gone to trial.  But I was persuaded by the evidence presented at trial.  You might have been, too.  Not every he-said, she-said case is unfounded or the product of government over-reach.

  34. stewie says:

    TC you should ALWAYS be inherently skeptical of just about everything.
    Notice, I didn’t say cynical, but skeptical. Of the alleged victim, or the government’s case, or your client’s story, or of the decision of a panel.
    Again, it’s a twenty year old case with an accusation and nothing else. The fact that there was a 16 year sentence does not in any way lend credibility to the verdict.
     
    The best you can say is, I don’t know. Could be, I didn’t see the evidence and I’ve not been presented with evidence to make it obvious.

  35. stewie says:

    Eh, I don’t really find that Perry Mason moment all that compelling. Obviously you and the panel did. It certainly explains why the conviction. But to me it’s an awfully slender reed reed for BRD.

  36. Ed says:

    Whether Collins committed an offense is not the important  part of this story. The important issues are the CA disregarding the recommendations of the SJA( thanks I suggest to the  work of Spier, Gillibrand, Warren ) and the arrogance of AFJAG post the initial decision of the Air Force Appeals Court.

  37. TC says:

    Good lord Ed. He was convicted of forcible rape based on, according to the very SJA who recommended against going forward, compelling evidence. And you somehow fault the CA for referring charges?

  38. Sea says:

    I’d be interested in reading the appellate briefs in this case, anyone have links to them?  Thanks.

  39. Ed says:

    TC
    I suggest your comment smacks of a case of legal myopia. I am faulting the CA. TC in that case may have found some new evidence but CA didn’t know that. He simply showed the mentality of a SHARP drone and sent the case to trial  conduct best being described as institutional cowardice. I stand on my previous comment.

  40. Rob Feldmeier says:

    Does anyone know if Collins has actually been released in compliance with the court’s order?

  41. stewie says:

    TC, based on the report above…the evidence that convicted him didn’t even come out until mid-trial. And that only came from the decision to put the client on the stand it appears.
     
    Sounds like otherwise, this was not a solid case. Luck isn’t a strategy I think is the point.

  42. Vulture says:

    This thread started four days ago. TC hasn’t been struck by lightning, swallowed by an earthquake, or groped by Joe Biden, yet. I am pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed.

  43. Allan says:

    I agree with TC, to a point.  He does not agree with what the USAF TJAG did.  He does not overly-sympathize with Collins.  I think both are fair points of view.  I am outraged by the whole thing.  A pox on everyone’s houses (except TC and defense counsel, who all seemed to have done their jobs).
    One important note:  the SOL had indeed changed, we just did not know it at the time.

  44. Charlie Gittins says:

    I think the SOL issue was the response to Willenbring (Willenbring v. Neurater) which was a multiple rape case on base that would have gone without punishment because of the SOL.  I think CAAF made a wrong call to get Willenbring in military jail and the decision was to reach a particular outcome in that case.  Willenbring remains confined even though the SOL decision he alleged was legally correct and decided by CAAF wrongly. 

  45. Defense Wizard says:

    Whether Collins did what he was accused of really doesn’t ultimately matter. The American system of justice is premised on the “10 guilty go free before one innocent person goes to jail.” Sometimes, bad people get off “on a technicality.” Those technicalities are there to prevent the innocent from ending up in jail. This isn’t about Collins’ bad deeds, it’s about the Air Force deciding that protections for the innocent were less important than keeping a “bad guy” in jail. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no particular sympathy for Collins, but what happens to the next guy, who is exonerated because of DNA evidence (or bad jury instructions, etc)? Anybody who has done this long enough has seen someone go to jail who probably shouldn’t have because the Government thought “well, he was a bad dude.” You’ve probably seen a TC play fast and loose with Brady/Giglio material, because the accused was “a bad dude.” Or a TC charge a 125, when they could have charged a 120 on a consensual underage “victim” case, just because the guy was a “bad dude” who shouldn’t be able to hide behind a reasonable mistake of fact as to age defense. I don’t particularly care about Collins’ weekends….but we all kinda should because of what it means for everyone who is at Leavenworth (or elsewhere) who shouldn’t be because the Government decided that putting a bad guy in jail was more important than doing justice.

  46. Anonymous says:

    DawG,
    With all of the “strong” evidence against Collins, you still recommended dismissal after the 32? Odd.