CAAF grants review in Bergdahl to determine if an accused who pleads guilty to serious offenses, receives the punishment he requested, and does not seek clemency is entitled to relief from an appearance of unlawful command influence
In 2009, then-Private First Class Bergdahl walked away from his combat outpost in Patika Province, Afghanistan. He was captured by the Taliban and held in captivity for nearly five years. He was recovered in a May 2014 trade for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. Ten months later he was charged with desertion with the intent to shirk important service and avoid hazardous duty in violation of Article 85(a)(2), and with misbehavior before the enemy in violation of Article 99.
Bergdahl eventually pleaded guilty to both offenses without a pretrial agreement. In sentencing his defense counsel specifically requested that the military judge sentence him to a dishonorable discharge, and Bergdahl made it clear that he personally believed that a dishonorable discharge was the appropriate punishment. The military judge gave him that and little more, adjudging a sentence of reduction to E-1, forfeiture of $1,000 pay per month for 10 months, and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority approved the sentence after Bergdahl elected to not request clemency.
Nevertheless, having pleaded guilty, requested a dishonorable discharge, made clear that a dishonorable discharge was appropriate, and not requested clemency, on appeal Bergdahl claimed that endemic unlawful command influence (UCI) denied him a fair trial, fair post-trial processing, or the appearance thereof, and sought dismissal of the charges. The Army CCA rejected the claim and affirmed the findings and sentence in a published decision discussed here. Bergdahl then petitioned CAAF for review (discussed here).
Yesterday, CAAF granted that review:
No. 19-0406/AR. U.S. v. Robert B. Bergdahl. CCA 20170582. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:
WHETHER THE CHARGES AND SPECIFICATIONS SHOULD BE DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE OR OTHER MEANINGFUL RELIEF GRANTED BECAUSE OF APPARENT UNLAWFUL COMMAND INFLUENCE.
Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.