Search: "article 60"

CAAF specifies an issue involving Air Force Lieutenant General Franklin

Our #5 Military Justice Story of 2013 was the Wilkerson court-martial and its effects. Air Force Lieutenant General Craig Franklin exercised his authority under Article 60(c) to set aside the sexual assault conviction of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson in 2013, and it was a military justice shot heard round the world. A frenzy of criticism erupted, and Congress ended the year by strictly curbing a convening authority’s previously unfettered ability to reduce the findings or sentence of a court-martial.

Another case involving General Franklin’s exercise of his authority (this time to dismiss a case before trial) resulted in a transfer of the case, defense claims of unlawful command influence, and eventually an acquittal on the merits.

The next chapter in this saga is CAAF’s order from Tuesday granting review:

No. 16-0546/AF. U.S. v. Rodney B. Boyce. CCA 38673. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue specified by the Court:

THE CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE AIR FORCE ADVISED THE CONVENING AUTHORITY THAT, UNLESS HE RETIRED, THE SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE WOULD FIRE HIM. WAS THE CONVENING AUTHORITY’S SUBSEQUENT REFERRAL OF CHARGES UNLAWFULLY INFLUENCED BY THE THREAT TO HIS POSITION AND CAREER?

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The convening authority? Lieutenant General Franklin.

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A potential conflict of interest troubles the Army CCA in a case that raises a new concern about victim mental health records

In a published decision in United State v. Vidal, __ M.J. __, No. 20130892 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jun. 21, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Army CCA orders a DuBay hearing to determine whether the appellant’s civilian appellate defense counsel has a conflict of interest.

A general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation convicted Staff Sergeant Vidal, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, of numerous offenses in connection with a single sexual encounter in Afghanistan involving two junior soldiers, one male (SPC JA) and the other female (SPC JO). Vidal was sentenced to confinement for 15 years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge. The other male soldier, SPC JA, was a co-accused (both were accused of sexually assaulting SPC JO), and was administratively discharged in lieu of trial by court-martial after Vidal’s trial concluded.

The civilian counsel representing Vidal on appeal did not represent him at trial, but did represent SPC JA and successfully obtained the administrative discharge for SPC JA. The civilian then undertook representation of Vidal for post-trial matters and for appeal, first seeking a post-trial administrative discharge for Vidal and then arguing on appeal that Vidal received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. The ineffective assistance claim was based upon the failure of Vidal’s trial defense counsel to seek SPC JO’s (the alleged victim’s) mental health records that were – the appeal asserts – completely exculpatory and instrumental in obtaining the administrative discharge. However, the civilian attorney had knowledge of the contents of the records (from his representation of the co-accused) but seemingly did not make full use of that knowledge during his post-trial representation of Vidal.

Accordingly, the CCA finds that:

[B]y arguing that the trial defense counsel was ineffective and lost appellant’s chance at an administrative discharge, it appeared he was also arguing his own ineffectiveness during post-trial representation of appellant. This presented us with what appeared to be a conflict of interest.

Slip op. at 5.

Significantly, the opinion “only attempts to identify potential conflicts of interest,” and the CCA observes that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as a finding of misconduct.” Slip op. at 11 n.7 (emphasis in original).

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The NMCCA addresses “an affirmative misstatement of the law that effectively precluded the appellant’s opportunity to receive clemency.”

In a published opinion issued yesterday in United States v. Roller, __ M.J. __, No. 201600008 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 31, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA finds that the staff judge advocate’s recommendation contained “an affirmative misstatement of the law that effectively precluded the appellant’s opportunity to receive clemency.” Slip op. at 3.

Specifically, the SJA improperly advised the convening authority about his power to act on the findings and sentence adjudged by the court-martial. The SJA wrongly claimed that the convening authority’s power to act on the findings and sentence was limited by the 2013 revision of Article 60(c).

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Opinion Analysis: Applying stare decisis, CAAF rejects the Navy’s challenge to the authority of a CCA to order a sentence-only rehearing in United States v. Quick, No. 15-0347/MC

CAAF decided the certified case of United States v. Quick, 74 M.J. 332, No. 15-0347/MC (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. A divided court rejects a Government challenge to longstanding precedent that permits a court of criminal appeals to order a rehearing on only the sentence adjudged by a court-martial. Holding that the Government failed to justify reversing this precedent, CAAF affirms the decision of the NMCCA that ordered a sentence-only rehearing in this case.

Chief Judge Erdmann writes for the court joined by Judge Ryan. Judge Baker writes separately, concurring in the result. Judge Stucky dissents, joined by Judge Ohlson.

The Judge Advocate General of the Navy certified the following issue to CAAF:

Whether precedent authorizing courts of criminal appeals to order sentence-only rehearings should be overruled based on: (a) Jackson v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 569 (1957), which stated “no [such] authority” exists; (b) the plain language of the statute including the conjunctive “findings and sentence” in Article 66(d) in contrast to authority granted the judge advocates general in Article 69(a) to act with respect to “findings or sentence or both” and the convening authority in Article 60(f)(3) to order sentence rehearings; and, (c) judicial economy.

The Navy-Marine Corps CCA ordered a sentence-only rehearing in this case after it reversed the appellee’s conviction of viewing an indecent visual recording in violation of Article 120(c) because it found that the offense requires actually viewing the real-life private area of a person (and not merely viewing a recording as the appellee did). United States v. Quick, 74 M.J. 517 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. 2014) (discussed here). The CCA ordered the rehearing because it found that it could not reassess the sentence for the other convictions because the penalty landscape was dramatically changed by the reversal of the indecent viewing conviction. The court’s order returned the case to the convening authority with the option to either refer the case to a new court-martial to adjudge another sentence or to forego another sentence and approve a sentence of no punishment. See R.C.M. 810; R.C.M. 1107(e)(1)(C)(iii). But the Navy JAG certified the case to CAAF to challenge the CCA’s authority to issue such an order.

In yesterday’s decision CAAF rejects that challenge because:

In the more than six decades since the adoption of the UCMJ, this court has consistently interpreted Article 66(d), UCMJ, to authorize CCAs to order sentence-only rehearings. . . . The ability of CCAs to order sentence-only rehearings is an accepted and viable appellate remedy and is relied upon by all litigants in the military justice system.

Slip op. at 16.

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President signs Executive Order amending the MCM

It’s been a long time coming, but the President has finally signed an Executive Order (number 13696) amending the Manual for Courts-Martial to incorporate the 2013 legislative changes to the UCMJ (series of posts discussing the changes available here). The EO is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on Monday, but you can read an advance copy here.

Edit: The final version is available here.

The changes include a new R.C.M. 405 (see this discussion of the stopgap measures), various changes to implement the new Article 6b (statute discussed here and here), and a new R.C.M. 1001A that allows a victim to make an unsworn statement during sentencing that is not subject to cross-examination (proposed rule discussed here).

Astonishingly, the EO does not provide the still-missing Part IV materials for the current version of Article 120 (enacted in the FY12 NDAA, and effective on 28 June 2012) (discussed here). Such materials would include model specifications (like the ones available here), definitions, explanations, and other valuable commentary. These materials are – presumably – included in the residuum EO (discussed here) that – we can only hope – will one day get signed, but President Obama’s failure to implement Article 120 is deeply troubling. That failure was also a topic of discussion during the recent meeting of the Article 120 subcommittee of the Judicial Proceedings Panel (at which I testified) (meeting details available here).

A summary of the new EO is after the jump. The summary is taken verbatim from an excellent write-up by the Marine Corps Judge Advocate Division (it will eventually be posted here as part of Practice Advisory 9-15).

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This Week in Military Justice – May 10, 2015

This week at SCOTUS: I’m not aware of any military justice developments at the Supreme Court.

This week at CAAF: CAAF will hear oral argument in two cases this week, both on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, beginning at 9 a.m.:

United States v. Sullivan, No. 15-0186/CG (CAAFlog case page)

Issues:
I. Whether the Government carried its burden of proving that the convening authority’s categorical exclusion of all flag officers was harmless.
II. Whether the military judge abused his discretion in denying challenges from both parties to his impartiality based on prior personal relationships with individual military counsel, the accused, trial counsel, several members, several witnesses, and the staff judge advocate.

Case Links:
CGCCA opinion
Blog post: Analysis of CGCCA opinion
Appellant’s brief
Appellee’s (Government) brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Blog post: Argument preview

United States v. Quick, No. 15-0347/MC (CAAFlog case page)

Issue: Whether precedent authorizing courts of criminal appeals to order sentence-only rehearings should be overruled based on: (a) Jackson v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 569 (1957), which stated “no [such] authority” exists; (b) the plain language of the statute including the conjunctive “findings and sentence” in Article 66(d) in contrast to authority granted the judge advocates general in Article 69(a) to act with respect to “findings or sentence or both” and the convening authority in Article 60(f)(3) to order sentence rehearings; and, (c) judicial economy.

Case Links:
NMCCA opinion
Blog post: Analysis of NMCCA opinion
Appellant’s (Government) brief
Appellee’s brief
Appellant’s (Government) reply brief
Amicus brief: Air Force Appellate Defense Division
Amicus brief: Air Force Appellate Government Division
Amicus brief: Goast Guard Appellate Government Division
Blog post: Argument preview

This week at the ACCA: The Army CCA will hear oral argument in one case this week, on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at 9:30 a.m.:

United States v. Hills, No. 20130833

Issue: Whether the military judge abused his discretion by granting the Government’s motion to use the charged sexual misconduct for Military Rule of Evidence 413 purposes to prove propensity to commit the charged sexual conduct.

This week at the AFCCA: The Air Force CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the CGCCA: The Coast Guard Trial Docket shows no scheduled oral arguments at the Coast Guard CCA.

This week at the NMCCA: The Navy-Marine Corps CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments.

Argument Preview: United States v. Quick, No. 15-0347/MC

CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Marine Corps case of United States v. Quick, No. 15-0347/MC (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. The Judge Advocate General of the Navy certified the case to CAAF in order to challenge the court’s longstanding precedent that permits a court of criminal appeals to order a rehearing on only the sentence adjudged by a court-martial, with the following issue:

Whether precedent authorizing courts of criminal appeals to order sentence-only rehearings should be overruled based on: (a) Jackson v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 569 (1957), which stated “no [such] authority” exists; (b) the plain language of the statute including the conjunctive “findings and sentence” in Article 66(d) in contrast to authority granted the judge advocates general in Article 69(a) to act with respect to “findings or sentence or both” and the convening authority in Article 60(f)(3) to order sentence rehearings; and, (c) judicial economy.

Appellee was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of conspiring to distribute an indecent visual recording, wrongfully viewing an indecent visual recording, and indecent conduct in violation of Articles 81, 120c, and 134. He was sentenced to confinement for six months, reduction to E-3, and a bad-conduct discharge. But on review, in what I called a significant published decision from the NMCCA interpreting Article 120c (2012) in this post, the NMCCA concluded that the offense of indecent viewing requires that an accused actually view the real-life private area of a person, and the court reversed Appellee’s indecent viewing conviction that was based on merely viewing a recording (made surreptitiously) of another person’s private area.

The CCA then remanded the case for a rehearing on the sentence. This seemingly-innocuous procedure returns the case to the convening authority who then has the option to either refer the case to a new court-martial (that may be composed of members or of a military judge alone, depending on the election of the accused) to adjudge another sentence, or to forego another sentence and approve a sentence of no punishment. See R.C.M. 810; R.C.M. 1107(e)(1)(C)(iii).

Sentence rehearings are nearly as old as the UCMJ itself, as the Court of Military Appeals (now known as CAAF) held in United States v. Miller, 10 C.M.A. 296, 299 (C.M.A. 1959), that:

a rehearing limited to sentence alone may be an appropriate and permissive remedy for the cure of errors not affecting findings.

And while innumerable sentence rehearings occurred on the half-century since Miller was decided, CAAF also reaffirmed Miller in its recent opinion in United States v. Winckelmann, 73 M.J. 11, 14 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page), though the court was divided on this issue, with Judges Stucky and Ryan practically inviting a Government challenge to end the practice in separate concurring opinions in that case.

In Quick, the Government makes that challenge.

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A significant decision from the NMCCA gets even more significant

On Friday, January 30, CAAF docketed a certificate for review of the NMCCA’s decision in United States v. Quick, __ M.J. __, No. 201300341 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 31, 2014). I analyzed the CCA’s opinion in this post.

In Quick, the NMCCA significantly limited the reach of Article 120c(a)(1) (2012), finding that the offense of indecent viewing requires that an accused actually view the real-life private area of a person. The CCA reversed the appellant’s conviction for merely viewing a recording (made surreptitiously) of another person’s private area, finding that the specification failed to state an offense. The CCA then ordered a sentence rehearing.

The Government didn’t certify the CCA’s decision regarding Article 120c(a)(1). Rather, it certified an issue challenging the authority of the CCA to order a sentence rehearing in any case:

No. 15-0347/MC. U.S., Appellant v. Christopher A. Quick, Appellee. CCA 201300341.  Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals was filed under Rule 22 on this date on the following issue:

WHETHER PRECEDENT AUTHORIZING COURTS OF CRIMINAL APPEALS TO ORDER SENTENCE-ONLY REHEARINGS SHOULD BE OVERRULED BASED ON (A) JACKSON v. TAYLOR, 353 U.S. 569 (1957), WHICH STATED “NO [SUCH] AUTHORITY” EXISTS; (B) THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF THE STATUTE INCLUDING THE CONJUNCTIVE “FINDINGS AND SENTENCE” IN ARTICLE 66(d) IN CONTRAST TO AUTHORITY GRANTED THE JUDGE ADVOCATES GENERAL IN ARTICLE 69(a) TO ACT WITH RESPECT TO “FINDINGS AND SENTENCE OR BOTH” AND THE CONVENING AUTHORITY IN ARTICLE 60(f)(3) TO ORDER SENTENCE REHEARINGS; AND (C) JUDICIAL ECONOMY.

Appellant will file a brief under Rule 22(b) in support of said certificate on or before March 2, 2015.

Revisiting the Top Ten Military Justice Stories of 2013

Next week we will continue an annual tradition for the seventh year, counting down the Top Ten Military Justice Stories of 2014. But before we do that, let’s revisit last year’s list.

#10 was Article 10, the speedy trial provision of the UCMJ. Writing for a sharply divided court, Judge Erdmann denied relief despite finding “several periods of unexplained or unjustified delay” in United States v. Wilson, 72 M.J. 347, 355 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page). Judge Erdmann’s majority opinion acknowledged that CAAF has “repeatedly stressed that Article 10 is a more stringent standard than the Sixth Amendment.” 72 M.J. at 352 n.2. But that proposition comes from United States v. Burton, 44 C.M.R. 166, 171 (C.M.A. 1971), and United States v. McCallister, 27 M.J. 138, 141 (C.M.A. 1988), and just like the disco music and big hair of the eras of Burton and McCallister, Article 10 is dead.

#9 was all about the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. We noticed things were getting bad at the Air Force court back in 2012, when the delay in resolving cases caused appellants to seek relief from CAAF and the news media to take an interest. “Going for guano crazy,” we thought, and the court made our list. But things got even worse in 2014, with CAAF’s invalidation of the appointment of a civilian official to the AFCCA by the Secretary of Defense. That appointment was ostensibly made to help clear the backlog of cases plaguing the Air Force court, but CAAF’s unanimous opinion in United States v. Janssen, 73 M.J. 221 (C.A.A.F. 2014) (CAAFlog case page), authored by Judge Stucky (himself a retired Air Force Colonel who served on the AFCCA), was just a touch ironic.

#8 was the confirmation of the appointment of Judge Ohlson to CAAF. After a long confirmation delay attributable to the politics of a divided government, Judge Ohlson become CAAF’s newest judge in 2013. Since then he’s participated in 25 cases, joining the majority in 22 of them. But it’s also clear that Judge Ohlson (formerly a career attorney in the Department of Justice) is not afraid to go it alone, as he confronted the other four judges with a strongly-worded dissent in United States v. Frey, writing that “the impropriety of [the trial counsel’s sentencing] argument is nothing short of breathtaking.” 73 M.J. 245, 253 (C.A.A.F. 2014) (CAAFlog case page).

#7 considered claims of unlawful command influence (UCI) by the civilian leadership of the armed forces. The President talked tough about military sexual assault prosecutions in an early May 2013 press conference, and a litigation bonanza ensued. Judges ruled, the Government pursued a number of interlocutory appeals, and the Secretary of Defense tried to clear the air. Then a majority of CAAF sidestepped the fundamental question of whether a civilian official can even commit UCI, with its decision in United States v. Hutchins, 72 M.J. 294 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page). Sadly, odds are good that CAAF will face this thorny issue again soon.

#6 focused on a specific allegation of UCI: that General Amos unlawfully influenced subordinates tasked with addressing a highly publicized video of Marines urinating on corpses in Afghanistan. The story had all the drama of a soap opera. But while the Commandant of the Marine Corps focused on the Marines associated with the video, many observers focused on the Commandant. Even after General Amos’ retirement in 2014, critics continue to question his qualifications and conduct, and defense counsel continue to assert that his actions unlawfully influenced a wide range of disciplinary processes.

#5 was the Wilkerson court-martial and its effects. Air Force Lieutenant General Craig Franklin exercised his authority under Article 60(c) to set aside the sexual assault conviction of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson in 2013, and it was a military justice shot heard round the world. A frenzy of criticism erupted, and Congress ended the year by strictly curbing a convening authority’s previously unfettered ability to reduce the findings or sentence of a court-martial.

#4 was the Salyer case. When a prosecutor facing a mistrial suggests that the judge’s personal life might be a reason to disqualify him from the case, and then a supervisory prosecutor digs through the judge’s personnel record looking for material to use for that purpose, and then the officer-in-charge, also an attorney, participates in the effort to remove the judge, causing the judge to recuse himself, and the accused is convicted of possession of child pornography, but 21 months later an appellate court dismisses the case with prejudice because of the actions of the prosecutors and the officer-in-charge, that’s enough to qualify for a spot on our top ten list. But the Salyer case had even more.

#3 was the Manning case. The prosecution of Army Private First Class Bradley (a.k.a. Chelsea) Manning for leaking classified material was a long drama. CAAF almost got involved in 2013, but the court narrowly decided that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for greater public access to the trial proceedings in Center for Constitutional Rights, et al. v. United States and Colonel Lind, 72 M.J. 126 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page). Then, in a summertime trial, Manning was convicted of various offenses, some in accordance with pleas of guilty, and sentenced to confinement for 35 years and a dishonorable discharge.

#2 was the adjudged death sentence for Army Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. Hasan became the sixth member of the military’s death row after firing his attorneys, representing himself, conceding that he was the shooter in his opening statement, and resting his case without presenting any evidence. A panel of thirteen members convicted Hasan of 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted murder, and then deliberated for less than two hours before sentencing him to death.

Finally, the #1 Military Justice Story of 2013 was the changes to the UCMJ enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. It’s hard to say exactly when the issue of sexual assault became a crisis in the military, but 2013 was the year that this long-simmering issue boiled over. Congress rushed to pass a NDAA in the final weeks of 2013, and the President signed it into law exactly one year ago today. The legislation contained numerous military justice provisions, including some new Articles, many changes to old ones, and a significant number of obvious drafting errors. As the sun rose on 2014, we took stock of those new provisions and wondered what the year ahead had in store for us.

We’ll answer that question on Monday, when we count down the Top Ten Military Justice Stories of 2014.

Military justice provisions in the FY15 NDAA

The Hill reports here on the Senate’s final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The complete text of the bill is available here.

The bill contains numerous provisions of interest to military justice practitioners (see Division A, Title V, Subtitle D). Here are the highlights:

  • Section 531 makes numerous “technical revisions and clarifications” to last year’s changes to the UCMJ, including:
    • Correcting technical language regarding a convening authority’s action on a “qualifying offense” (original text analyzed here);
    • Correcting the definition of a victim in the new Article 60(d) (original text analyzed here);
    • Adding language explicitly authorizing an accused’s waiver of an Article 32 preliminary inquiry (original text analyzed here);
    • Expanding the prohibition on defense counsel interviews of an alleged victim of a sex offense to include any “counsel for the accused” and to involve notification to any counsel for the alleged victim (original text analyzed here);
    • Adding the word “unlawful” into the new forcible sodomy/bestiality statute (Article 125) (original text analyzed here);
    • Clarification of the definition of prospective members of the armed forces for purposes of inappropriate and prohibited relationships;
    • Technical changes to the new Article 6b (original text analyzed here and here);
    • Making the new Article 32 effective on December 26, regardless of the date of the alleged offense (original text analyzed here);
    • Restoring a convening authority’s total discretion to act on the findings or sentence (except for offenses with a mandatory minimum) when a conviction involves offenses that occurred both before and after the effective date of the new Article 60(c) (original text analyzed here).
  • Section 532 enacts a new Article 49, permitting depositions only “if the party [seeking the deposition] demonstrates that, due to exceptional circumstances, it is in the interest of justice that the testimony of the prospective witness be taken and preserved…” This is likely a reaction to the McDowell case (last discussed here).
  • Section 535 enacts a new paragraph (e) in Article 6(b) that gives an alleged victim an explicit right to petition a CCA for a writ of mandamus to force compliance with M.R.E. 412 (the rape shield) and M.R.E. 513 (the psychotherapist-patient privilege). This is likely a reaction to the dissenting opinions in LRM v. Kastenberg, 72 M.J. 364 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page).
  • Section 536 limits the admissibility of good military character evidence, as follows:

SEC. 536. MODIFICATION OF MILITARY RULES OF EVIDENCE RELATING TO ADMISSIBILITY OF GENERAL MILITARY CHARACTER TOWARD PROBABILITY OF INNOCENCE.

(a) Modification Required- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, Rule 404(a) of the Military Rules of Evidence shall be amended to provide that the general military character of an accused is not admissible for the purpose of showing the probability of innocence of the accused for an offense specified in subsection (b).

(b) Covered Offenses- Subsection (a) applies to the following offenses under chapter 47 of title 10, United States Code (the Uniform Code of Military Justice):

(1) An offense under sections 920 through 923a of such title (articles 120 through 123a).

(2) An offense under sections 925 through 927 of such title (articles 125 through 127).

(3) An offense under sections 929 through 932 of such title (articles 129 through 132).

(4) Any other offense under such chapter (the Uniform Code of Military Justice) in which evidence of the general military character of the accused is not relevant to an element of an offense for which the accused has been charged.

(5) An attempt to commit an offense or a conspiracy to commit an offense specified in a preceding paragraph as punishable under section 880 or 881 of such title (article 80 or 81).

I’ve written about this before and I will write about it again in the coming weeks.

  • Section 537 requires modification to M.R.E. 513 to eliminate the “constitutionally required” exception to the privilege (paragraph (d)(8)) and to increase the burden on a party seeking production or admission of privileged matters.
  • Section 541 gives the “chief prosecutor” of each Armed Force the power to force secretarial review of a convening authority’s decision to not refer a charged sex-related offense to trial.

A confused call to eliminate the factual sufficiency powers of the Courts of Criminal Appeals

The law review at my alma mater recently published an article calling for an end to the Article 66(c) power of a court of criminal appeals to conduct a factual sufficiency review of a court-martial conviction. Matt C. Pinsker, Ending the Military’s Courts of Criminal Appeals De Novo Review of Findings of Fact, 47 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 471 (2014) (link to article). The author is a practicing criminal defense attorney who worked as an extern with the Army Government Appellate Division while studying for his LL.M.

The article asserts that the justifications for the CCA’s factual sufficiency review power no longer exist because:

Due to amendments to the UCMJ over the past fifty years, military trials now resemble civilian trials and are presided over at both special and general courts-martial by an independent and professional circuit of military judges with powers modeled after Article III judges. This has reduced the potential for command influence while increasing the professionalism of trials, thus mitigating the chances of legal error. Furthermore, the fact-finding power of the military’s courts of criminal appeals is actually an impediment to justice because it adds a considerable burden on the military’s already severely backlogged appellate system. Claims of factual insufficiency are frequently and easily made by appellate defense counsel, but are very time consuming for appellate prosecutors to respond to.

Pinsker, supra, at 472. The article makes numerous assertions that I think are a stretch, including claiming that there is “a powerful military [trial] judiciary,” id. at 487, and asserting that “the United States Supreme Court recognized the change from law officers to military judges has created an independent judiciary within the military,” id. at 487 (citing Weiss v. United States, 510 U.S. 163, 191-192 (1994) (Souter, J., concurring)). However, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion of the Court in Weiss explained:

[T]he position of military judge is less distinct from other military positions than the office of full-time civilian judge is from other offices in civilian society. As the lead opinion in the Court of Military Appeals noted, military judges do not have any “inherent judicial authority separate from a court-martial to which they have been detailed. When they act, they do so as a court-martial, not as a military judge. Until detailed to a specific court-martial, they have no more authority than any other military officer of the same grade and rank.” Military appellate judges similarly exercise judicial functions only when they are “assigned” to a Court of Military Review. Neither military trial nor appellate judges, moreover, have a fixed term of office. Commissioned officers are assigned or detailed to the position of military judge by a Judge Advocate General for a period of time he deems necessary or appropriate, and then they may be reassigned to perform other duties. Even while serving as military trial judges, officers may perform, with the permission of the Judge Advocate General, duties unrelated to their judicial responsibilities. Whatever might be the case in civilian society, we think that the role of military judge is “germane” to that of military officer.

510 U.S. at 175-76 (1994) (citations omitted). I agree that military judge’s have a significant measure of independence (though the fleeting nature of their assignment is notable), but I don’t agree that military judges are “powerful” (particularly when their limited powers are compared to the powers of Article III judges, or even to the powers of a convening authority).

Another assertion that I question is that:

Claims of factual insufficiency place a very heavy burden on the government’s appellate attorneys. Answering the defense’s claim of factual insufficiency forces government attorneys to reargue the case on paper, which is a very time-consuming process. A government attorney has to go through hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pages of the trial record to pick out evidence and witness testimony supporting the finding of guilt and rebutting the claims of the appellate defense attorneys. Depending on the length of the trial record and the specific nature of the claims of factual insufficiency, addressing this one assignment of error can easily take a government attorney days to complete, despite its high likelihood of futility.

Pinsker, supra, at 503. I doubt that factual insufficiency claims are so vague as to require Government counsel to engage in scavenger hunts for rebuttal evidence, and I can’t help but marvel at the author’s claim – in a single sentence – that factual insufficiency claims both have a high likelihood of futility and require comprehensive rebuttals. The author also sees a need “to discourage appellate defense counsels from alleging factual sufficiency assignments of errors they know are unlikely to succeed.” Id. at 504. This reads like an assertion that appellate defense counsel make frivolous claims.

Another part of the article asserts that service members facing court-martial enjoy greater due process protections than civilians facing civil prosecution, citing five examples: Article 31 rights, free appellate counsel, the Care inquiry, free mitigation experts, and clemency. Pinsker, supra, at 507-519. I think each of these examples is flawed, for the following reasons:

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JSC solicits public comments for proposed amendments to the Manual for Courts-Martial

Today’s Federal Register contains this public notice, 79 Fed. Reg. 59,937 (Oct. 3, 2014), of proposed changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial. The notice also solicits public comments regarding the proposed changes (due no later than December 2, 2014), and provides notice of a public meeting about the proposed changes to occur on October 29, 2014, at CAAF.

The proposed changes consume 22 pages in the Federal Register (shorter than the 34 pages of changes proposed in 2012 and only partially adopted in 2013). The proposed changes mainly implement the military justice reforms in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, signed into law by the President on December 26, 2013 (I discussed these reforms in a series of posts available here).

While much of the proposed changes are unremarkable, there are some surprises. For example, R.C.M. 405 (addressing the Article 32 process) is revised in its entirety (because of the revised Article 32 effective in December). The revised R.C.M. 405(h) states that

the Military Rules of Evidence do not apply in preliminary hearings under this rule except as follows . . . Mil. R. Evid. 412 shall apply in any case that includes a charge defined as a sexual offense in Mil. R. Evid. 412(d), except that Mil. R. Evid. 412(b)(1)(C) shall not apply. . . . [Mil. R. Evid.] 513(d)(8); and 514(d)(6) shall not apply.

79 Fed. Reg. at 59,941 (proposed R.C.M. 405(h)). These three Military Rules of Evidence that do not apply (412(b)(1)(c), 513(d)(8), and 514(d)(6)) are the constitutional exceptions to the general rules prohibiting admission of an alleged victim’s other sexual behavior or sexual predisposition (M.R.E. 412), establishing the psychotherapist-patient privilege (M.R.E. 513), and establishing the victim advocate privilege (M.R.E. 514).

The proposed changes emphasize that M.R.E. 412, 513, and 514 apply as exclusionary rules only, stating that the hearing officer “shall assume the military judge’s authority to exclude evidence from the preliminary hearing.” 79 Fed. Reg. at 59,941 (proposed R.C.M. 405(h)(4)) (emphasis added). Further, a new discussion section explains:

Although Mil. R. Evid. 412(b)(1)(C) allows admission of evidence of the victim’s sexual behavior or predisposition at trial when it is constitutionally required, there is no constitutional requirement at an Article 32 hearing. There is likewise no constitutional requirement for a pretrial hearing officer to consider evidence under Mil. R. Evid. 513(d)(8), and 514(d)(6) at an Article 32 hearing.

79 Fed. Reg. at 59,950.

The proposal also provides a new definition of the term “matters in mitigation” for the purpose of an Article 32 preliminary hearing:

For the purposes of this rule, “matters in mitigation” are defined as matters that may serve to explain the circumstances surrounding a charged offense.

79 Fed. Reg. at 59,941. The changes do not modify the definition of “matter in mitigation” found in R.C.M. 1001(c)(1)(B).

Other interesting proposed changes include:

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Some notable recent military justice scholarship

In volume 63 of the Naval Law Review, Commander Robert P. Monahan, Jr., JAGC, USN, writes A Proposal to Conform Military Rule of Evidence 305 in light of the Supreme Court’s Holdings in Maryland v. Shatzer and Berghuis v. Thompkins, 63 Naval L. Rev. 67 (2014). Commander Monahan proposes modifying MRE 305(e)(3)(A) to incorporate the 14-day break in custody requirement from Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 110 (2010); modifying MRE 305(c)(4) to require an unambiguous invocation of the right to remain silent drawn from Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 388-389 (2010); and modifying MRE 305(e)(1) and 305(e)(2) to permit implied waiver of the right to remain silent. This is a direct link to the beginning of the article in the complete volume of the Naval Law Review, hosted on the Navy’s website. This is a link to just the article, hosted on CAAFlog.

In the July volume of The Army Lawyer (link to full volume’s table of contents and articles), there are three notable articles:

  • Major Dane B. Getz, USAR, Closing the Gap in Access to Military Health Care Records: Mandating Civilian Compliance with the Military Command Exception to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, Army Law., July 2014, at 4 (direct link to article). Major Getz’s article reveals what I think is a disturbing institutionalized lack of respect for the protected nature of medical records. For example, the article considers a hypothetical situation where a “commander needs the NCO’s (non-commissioned officer’s] PHI [protected health information] as soon as possible to determine his continued fitness for duty and assess whether he may pose a danger to himself and others.” Id. at 5. Precisely what the commander (not a medical provider) will do with that information is unclear. Further, the article discusses the outrageous practice of issuing orders to Soldiers “to sign civilian medical release forms in their favor and/or turn over copies of their civilian PHI directly to commanders,” id. at 5 n.9, and labels Soldiers who wish to preserve their medical privacy as “medically non-compliant,” id. at 7 n.34.
  • Major Brent A. Goodwin, USA, Congress Offends Eisenhower and Cicero by Annihilating Article 60, UCMJ, Army Law., July 2014, at 23 (direct link to article). Major Goodwin’s articles discusses the changes to Article 60(c) in the FY14 NDAA and joins the debate over the meaning of the clemency limitations, ultimately agreeing with (though not discussing) my conclusion that in all cases the statute allows reduction of punishments that are not confinement for more than six months or a punitive discharge. Id. at 28. See this post.
  • Captain Jeremy R. Bedford, USA, Eligibility for VA Disability Compensation and Health Care Benefits for Army National Guardsmen Discharged with an Other Than Honorable Discharge, Army Law., July 2014, at 36 (direct link to article). Captain Bedford’s article concludes: “The interpretation of VA benefits eligibility in AR 135-178 needs to be revised to clarify that an ARNG’s [Army National Guard] OTH [administrative discharge under other than honorable conditions] will not affect the disability compensation and health care benefits to which Guardsman are entitled on the basis of a previous honorable active service deployment.” Id. at 39.

In the August volume of The Army Lawyer (link to full volume’s table of contents and articles), there are three notable articles:

  • Colonel James F. Garrett, USA, Colonel Mark “Max” Maxwell, USA, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew A. Calarco, USA, and Major Franklin D. Rosenblatt, USA, Lawful Command Emphasis: Talk Offense, Not Offender; Talk Process, Not Results, Army Law., August 2014, at 4 (direct link to article). The article coins a new term: lawful command emphasis. “Lawful command emphasis is, in short, the appropriate actions commanders or staff members can take within the military justice process to ensure good order and discipline is maintained within the ranks.” Id. at 6.
  • Major Matthew E. Wright, USA, A Distinction with a Difference: Rule for Courts-Martial 304 Pretrial Restraint and Speedy Trial, Army Law., August 2014, at 22 (direct link to article). Major Wright’s article discusses “the spectrum of restraint [that] begins with no restraint and progresses through conditions on liberty, restriction, arrest, restriction tantamount to confinement, and finally, confinement. A progressively onerous array of collateral consequences linked to the severity of the restraint imposed provides strong incentives for commanders to remain as close to the beginning of this spectrum as possible.” Id. at 25.
  • Colonel James W. Herring, Jr., USA, A View from the Bench: Make the Routine, Routine (U.S. Army Legal Services Agency Trial Judiciary Note), Army Law., August 2014, at 41 (direct link to article). Colonel Harring’s article discusses issues with specifications (i.e., the specifications on the charge sheet), script (i.e., the trial guide), and suspenses (i.e., deadlines).

The Navy’s erroneous interpretation of the revised Article 60(c)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) made numerous changes to the UCMJ (analysis available here). Among those changes was section 1702(b) of the NDAA, revising Article 60(c) to limit a convening authority’s ability to modify either the findings or the sentence of a court-martial. This section was the focus of my analysis published earlier this month by LexisNexis (available at 2014 Emerging Issues 7217).

The revised Article 60(c)(2)(B) states that “except as provided in paragraph (4), the convening authority or another person authorized to act under this section may approve, disapprove, commute, or suspend the sentence of the court-martial in whole or in part.” This allows a convening authority to modify the adjudged sentence, with certain limits. The limits are provided in Article 60(c)(4)(A), which states:

Except as provided in subparagraph (B) or (C), the convening authority or another person authorized to act under this section may not disapprove, commute, or suspend in whole or in part an adjudged sentence of confinement for more than six months or a sentence of dismissal, dishonorable discharge, or bad conduct discharge.

My Emerging Issues Analysis discusses why this language limits a convening authority’s power for only the adjudged punishments of (1) confinement for more than six months and (2) a punitive discharge, leaving a convening authority free to modify any other adjudged punishment in any case. So, for example, when an accused is sentenced to confinement for one year and a $5,000 fine, the statute permits suspension of the fine (because it is not “an adjudged sentence of confinement for more than six months or a sentence of [punitive discharge]” ).

But the Secretary of the Navy recently took the opposite position in ALNAV 051/14, promulgating guidance that I believe is both erroneous and unlawful.

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A personal note

A brief personal update: I left active duty on July 1 and moved to Massachusetts with my wife and two children. I remain in the Marine Corps Reserve. I’ve been busy setting up the household and preparing for civilian practice. More news on that to come.

I will continue blogging. In fact, I’m planning to do a lot of writing about military justice issues in the coming months. For example, here is a link to my analysis of the new Article 60(c) (the convening authority’s clemency power for offenses committed on or after June 24, 2014) published as part of the LexisNexis Emerging Issues Analysis series, 2014 Emerging Issues 7217.