CAAFlog » Argument Previews

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. King, No. 18-0288/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. A single granted issue challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to prove that King wrongfully viewed child pornography:

The military judge found Appellant guilty of viewing child pornography. But all of the alleged child pornography appellant allegedly viewed was found in unallocated space or a Google cache. Is the evidence legally sufficient?

Unallocated space is a computer storage term that refers to unused space on the storage device (hard drive, thumb drive, etc.). Though unused, the space can nevertheless contain data. Deleted items, for example, are in unallocated space (because the process of deleting a file is more synonymous with forgetting than with removing).

A cache is a storage area for data. Applications (like web browsers) often use cache files to speed up the browsing process. A cache is created on a user’s device when a user accesses data that is stored somewhere else. When the user wants to access the data again, some of the content is provided by the local cache (rather than re-downloaded from the remote site).

Contrary to his pleas of not guilty, Airman First Class (E-3) King was convicted by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone of one specification of attempting to view child pornography, one specification of viewing child pornography, and one specification of violating a general regulation. He was sentenced to confinement for nine months, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. The Air Force CCA summarily affirmed the convictions.

The prosecution of King began when Photobucket – an image-sharing website – notified authorities of a suspected image of child pornography uploaded to the service by an account linked to King’s military email address. King was questioned by Air Force criminal investigators, and he seemingly confessed to searching for and viewing child pornography on his government computer.

But King’s primary brief doesn’t address that apparent confession, and it offers only a passing reference to his statements to investigators. See App. Br. at 37. Instead, King’s brief focuses on the fact that of the images introduced into evidence by the prosecution, the military judge found that only three were actually child pornography. All three were found on King’s personal computer; two in a Google cache and one in unallocated space. The military judge convicted King of wrongfully viewing those three images of child pornography.

The granted issue and King’s brief question whether that conviction can be sustained based only on the images found in the cache and unallocated space. It’s a good question. But CAAF is almost certainly going to be more interested in King’s admissions to military investigators, whether those admissions amount to a confession to wrongfully viewing child pornography, and whether the images (or something else) provide adequate corroboration.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Tucker, No. 18-0254/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. It’s the second time the court will hear argument in this case on substantially the same issue: whether mere negligence on the part of an accused is sufficient for a conviction of violation of Article 134 (the general article that penalizes disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline, conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and other crimes and offenses not capital).

Private Tucker pleaded guilty to multiple offenses including a novel violation of Article 134 based on providing alcohol to a minor. The specification charged that he:

unlawfully provide Private [TG], a person under the age of 21, alcoholic beverages, such conduct being to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces and of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

Tucker did not know that TG was underage at the time he provided the alcohol. The military judge nevertheless accepted Tucker’s plea after instructing Tucker that his negligent failure to discover TG’s true age made his conduct punishable.

The Army CCA affirmed Tucker’s convictions in a published decision, concluding that the word neglects in Article 134 states a negligence standard. United States v. Tucker, 75 M.J. 872, 875 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 28, 2016). CAAF then granted review, heard oral argument, and then reversed the CCA 13 days after argument with a per curiam decision. United States v. Tucker, 76 M.J. 257, 258 (C.A.A.F. May 23, 2017) (CAAFlog case page). CAAF concluded that “the term ‘neglects’ simply refers to the failure of a servicemember to perform an act that it was his or her duty to perform. . . . [it] has no connection to the mens rea requirement that the government must prove under the statute.” 76 M.J. at 258. CAAF’s decision contributed to our selection of mens rea as the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017.

The case was returned to the Army CCA where the conviction was again affirmed, with another published decision, on the basis that Tucker’s “admitted mens rea of simple negligence, when combined with the requirement that [his] conduct was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces and of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and his admitted knowledge of the wrongfulness of his actions, sufficiently separates his criminal conduct from otherwise innocent conduct.” United States v. Tucker, 77 M.J. 696, 697 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 27, 2018) (marks omitted).

CAAF then granted review of one issue:

Whether the Army Court erred in holding that the minimum mens rea required under clauses 1 and 2 of Article 134, UCMJ, to separate wrongful from innocent conduct is simple negligence.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Hale, No. 18-0162/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, after the argument in Hamilton. The case involves jurisdiction over offenses committed by a drilling reservist, and CAAF granted review of two issues and specified a third:

Granted Issues:
I. The lower court found as a matter of law that personal jurisdiction does not exist outside of the hours of inactive-duty training. The lower court proceeded to find personal jurisdiction existed over Appellant because he was “staying” with his in-laws. Was this error?

II. Whether the lower court erred when it concluded the military judge correctly instructed the members they could convict Appellant for conduct “on or about” the dates alleged in each specification.

Specified Issue:
III. Whether the lower court erred in concluding the court-martial had jurisdiction over specification 2 of additional charge 1, as modified to affirm the lesser included offense of attempted larceny.

Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) Hale – an Air Force reservist – was convicted of multiple specifications of larceny and attempted larceny, and also of making a false official statement, and sentenced to confinement for one month, total forfeitures, and a dismissal. The convictions relate to Hale’s submission of fraudulent travel claims involving his reserve service. Hale stayed (lodged) with relatives while performing reserve duty, and he submitted fraudulent travel claims for lodging expenses with his in-laws.

The granted issues present fact-specific challenges to some of Hale’s convictions based on a unique facet of jurisdiction over reservists. Members of reserve components are subject to the UCMJ, but only when actually performing reserve duty. For example, Article 2(a)(3) limits jurisdiction to:

Members of a reserve component while on inactive-duty training, but in the case of members of the Army National Guard of the United States or the Air National Guard of the United States only when in Federal service.

Notably absent is the time between periods of inactive-duty training. Such training typically occurs in four-hour blocks, with breaks during lunch and overnight that create jurisdictional gaps. Hale’s convictions cross some of those gaps.

But Congress eliminated those jurisdictional gaps in the Military Justice Act of 2016, amending Article 2(a)(3) to specifically include:

(i) Travel to and from the inactive-duty training site of the member, pursuant to orders or regulations.

(ii) Intervals between consecutive periods of inactive-duty training on the same day, pursuant to orders or regulations.

(iii) Intervals between inactive-duty training on consecutive days, pursuant to orders or regulations.

Sec. 5102, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Public Law 114-328, 130 Stat. 2894, 2895 (Dec. 23, 2016).

But for Hale those gaps still matter, and CAAF’s review will determine whether some of his convictions involve conduct during periods when he was not subject to the UCMJ.

Case Links:
• AFCCA decision
• Blog post: CAAF grants review
• Appellant’s brief
• Appellee’s (Air Force App. Gov’t Div.) brief
• Appellant’s reply brief
Blog post: Argument preview

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Hamilton, No. 18-0135/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. Last term, in United States v. Barker, 77 M.J. 377 (C.A.A.F. May 21, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF outlined the requirements for admission of a statement by a crime victim under R.C.M. 1001A (the President’s implementation of the Article 6b right to be reasonably heard) during the sentencing phase of a court-martial. Now CAAF will review whether such statements are evidence that must be evaluated under the rules of evidence, with the following two granted issues:

I. Are victim impact statements admitted pursuant to R.C.M. 1001A evidence subject to the Military Rules of Evidence?

II. Whether the military judge erred in admitting prosecution exhibits 4, 5, and 6.

In a published, en banc opinion (analyzed here), the Air Force CCA reconciled the Article 42(b) requirement for testimony under oath with the Article 6b(a)(4)(B) right to be heard in sentencing and concluded:

unsworn victim impact statements offered pursuant to R.C.M. 1001A are not evidence. See also United States v. Provost, 32 M.J. 98, 99 (C.M.A. 1991) (if an accused elects to make an unsworn statement, he is not offering evidence). Both R.C.M. 1001(c)(2)(C) and R.C.M. 1001A(e) allow facts in an unsworn statement to be contradicted or rebutted. This does not change the character of the right to speak.

United States v. Hamilton, 77 M.J. 579, 583 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 20, 2017). Furthermore, the CCA reasoned, because a victim’s unsworn statement is not evidence, the Military Rules of Evidence (including the balancing test in Mil. R. Evid. 403) “do not apply to victim unsworn statements.” 77 M.J. at 586.

CAAF will determine if that’s right. Maybe.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Criswell, No. 18-0091/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Thursday, September 13, 2018, at 11 a.m., at the Fordham University School of Law in New York. A single granted issue challenges the military judge’s ruling that allowed the alleged victim to make an in-court identification of the appellant as her assailant:

Whether the military judge abused his discretion in denying a defense motion to suppress the accusing witness’s in-court identification of Appellant.

A general court-martial composed of a military judge alone convicted Specialist (E-4) Criswell, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, of one specification of making a false official statement, two specifications of abusive sexual contact, one specification of assault consummated by battery, and one specification of indecent language in violation of Articles 107, 120, 128, and 134, UCMJ. Criswell was sentenced to confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

Criswell’s convictions relate to an allegation by Specialist (SPC) AM that she was sexually touched and harassed by a man during a party at a convention center at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. SPC AM is a white female; her assailant was a black man. SPC AM did not know her assailant, but she described him to another soldier shortly after the alleged touching, and the other soldier said, “I probably know who this is.” App. Br. at 5 (quoting record). That led to the identification of Criswell as possibly being the assailant.

The following day SPC AM reported her allegation to military authorities, who showed her a picture of Criswell. SPC AM then said that Criswell was her assailant. But that out-of-court identification was not admited into evidence. Instead, SPC AM identified Criswell as her assailant during trial:

The trial counsel asked SPC AM whether she recognized her assailant in the ccourtroom. (JA 75). Specialist AM pointed to SPC Criswell and said, “I recognize his facial features. I recognize, like, the—it’s weird—like, the shape of his head. I recognize the size of his body. I am able to recognize, compared to when he was close to me.” (JA 76).

App. Br. at 12.

Criswell moved to suppress the identification at trial and again challenged it on appeal before the Army CCA. The military judge allowed the in-court identification and the Army court affirmed that decision. CAAF will now determine if those decisions were right.

Case Links:
• ACCA decision
• Appellant’s brief
• Appellee’s (Army Gov’t App. Div.) brief
• Appellant’s reply brief
• Law student amicus in support of appellant
• Law student amicus in support of the appellee (Gov’t Div.)
• Blog post: Argument preview

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Eugene, No. 18-0209/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, at 3 p.m., at the Keenan Ceremonial Courtroom, 500 Pearl Street, New York. The court granted review of two issues involving consent to a search:

I. Whether Appellant’s request to Criminal Investigation Command (CID) that his cell phone be returned was a withdrawal of the third party consent to search given by Appellant’s wife in Appellant’s absence.

II. Whether the Army Court erred in determining the applicability of the inevitable discovery doctrine where (1) the CID agents failed to take any steps to obtain a warrant and (2) the case took a “dead-end” until the warrantless search.

A general court-martial composed of a military judge alone convicted Private First Class (E-3) Eugene, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, of two specifications of attempted viewing of child pornography and four specifications of attempted sexual abuse of a child, all in violation of Article 80, UCMJ. The military judge sentenced Eugene to confinement for 26 months, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

The convictions were based on evidence discovered on Eugene’s cell phone by his wife. Eugene allowed his wife to use his phone, and he left the device with her while he was away conducting field exercises on June 1, 2015. On June 2, 2015, Eugene’s wife used the device and discovered communications between Eugene and other women, some of whom identified themselves as minors. Eugene’s wife then contacted military authorities and authorized them to seize and search the phone. Military investigators conducted a limited, electronic search of the device, but found no evidence. Three days later, on June 5, 2015, they interrogated Eugene and he admitted to exchanging communications with underage girls. At the end of the interrogation, Eugene asked the investigators to return his phone but they did not return it. Instead, military investigators sent the phone for a more detailed electronic search. That search occurred five months later, on November 9, 2015, and yielded incriminating evidence. At no point, however, did the investigators obtain a military search authorization or a civilian search warrant.

Eugene’s defense counsel moved to suppress the fruits of the second search at trial, arguing that the investigators were required to obtain an authorization or warrant. The military judge denied the motion, ruling that Eugene’s wife consented to both the seizure of the phone and its subsequent search, and that Eugene’s request that the phone be returned was at most only a revocation of his wife’s consent to seize the phone. The Army CCA affirmed, finding that Eugene’s request that investigators return his phone was “merely an attempt to regain control over his personal property for personal convenience.” United States v. Eugene, No. 20160483, slip op. at 6 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 28, 2018). The CCA also found that the inevitable discovery doctrine applies because there was “overwhelming probable cause” and the lead investigator “would have contacted a military magistrate to get a search authorization if he believed he did not have consent.” Id. slip op. at 8.

CAAF then granted review of both of the CCA’s findings. Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Christensen, No. No. 17-0604/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, after the argument in Hendrix. A single granted issue bluntly questions the existence of personal jurisdiction:

Whether Appellant was subject to court-martial jurisdiction.

Private First Class (E-3) Christensen “had a history of being drunk on duty.” App. Br. at 3. That won him an early administrative separation (for alcohol abuse rehabilitation failure). But before he was separated, civilian authorities confined him on suspicion of sexual assault. Then Christensen received his separation orders with an effective date of April 17, 2013, and his DD-214 was mailed to his father on April 23, 2013. After that, Christensen was cut loose: his command stopped visiting him, it advised his father to sell his uniforms, his eligibility for military health insurance ended, and the Department of Veterans Affairs started sending him letters.

But the Army wasn’t done with him yet.

A week after the effective date of Christensen’s separation orders, the Chief of Justice (senior prosecutor) at Fort Stewart, GA, decided that “we are not quite ready for [Christensen] to be out of the Army yet.” App. Br. at 12 (quoting record). The Chief of Justice then contacted finance personnel and delayed the final accounting of Christensen’s pay (which included a debt to the Government based on Christensen’s civilian confinement prior to his discharge). A Chief of Justice doesn’t ordinarily have the power or responsibility to do this, but he did it nonetheless. It wasn’t until September 30, 2013 – a whopping five months later – that the separation orders and DD-214 were revoked. Then, on December 11, 2013, military authorities went to the residential alcohol rehabilitation program where Christensen was a patient, shackled him, and returned him to Fort Stewart where he was initially denied a uniform, an identification card, quarters, and even access to the dining facility. Christensen’s brief to CAAF explains that:

When appellant tried to eat at the dining facility, the noncommissioned officer in charge of providing a meal card said appellant “wasn’t in the system.” (JA 434–35). The unit then provided appellant with a memorandum to take to the dining facility, but a dining facility employee told him, “I can’t let you in with that.” (JA 434–35). After being rebuffed again, appellant “went back to the company,” and a sergeant major had to call the dining facility before appellant could eat. (JA 434–35).

App. Br. at 7.

That was in 2013 and Christensen was charged with a sexual offense. He challenged the existence of jurisdiction at trial, but lost. Then a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone convicted Christensen of one specification of sexual assault in violation of Article 120(a) (2012), and sentenced him to confinement for eight years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

Christensen renewed his jurisdictional challenge on appeal but the Army CCA rejected it, concluding that “the processing of appellant’s pay stopped at a stage similar to that in [United States v. Hart, 66 M.J. 273, 276 (C.A.A.F. 2008)], and we find the reasoning of the Hart court persuasive and controlling.” United States v. Christensen, No. 20140372, slip op. at 9 (A. Ct. Crim. App. June 15, 2017) (link to slip op.). Hart was something of a seminal case in the year of jurisdiction. Airman First Class Hart confessed to numerous drug offenses and was subsequently discharged for physical disability. Hart received his certificate of discharge (DD Form 214) on March 5, 2004, but two days later Hart’s squadron commander moved to stop Hart’s final pay and revoke the DD-214. Within a week Hart was reported as in an unauthorized absence status, and before the end of the month he was apprehended and returned to military control.

Hart mounted aggressive challenges to the existence of court-martial jurisdiction over him, but they were denied based on the provisions of 10 U.S.C. §§ 1168(a) and 1169, which are personnel statutes outlining the requirements for a discharge. §1168 states:

§1168. Discharge or release from active duty: limitations
(a) A member of an armed force may not be discharged or released from active duty until his discharge certificate or certificate of release from active duty, respectively, and his final pay or a substantial part of that pay, are ready for delivery to him or his next of kin or legal representative.

(b) This section does not prevent the immediate transfer of a member to a facility of the Department of Veterans Affairs for necessary hospital care.

(emphasis added). The question in Hart – and in Christensen – was whether the final pay or a substantial part of it was ready for delivery.

A deeply-divided CAAF ultimately affirmed the existence of personal jurisdiction in Hart. The majority concluded that:

The payment process was halted at the command’s request before the twenty days expired. The language of 10 U.S.C § 1168(a) setting limitations on discharge or release from active duty plainly precludes discharge unless “final pay or a substantial part of that pay” is “ready for delivery.” On the facts of this case, these criteria were not fulfilled. Accordingly, Hart was not effectively discharged and remained subject to court-martial jurisdiction pursuant to Article 2(a)(1), UCMJ.

Hart, 66 M.J. at 277. But a footnote to the first sentence quoted above included an important caveat:

This case does not involve any delay in the processing of Hart’s separation pay. We have not had occasion to address the jurisdictional effects if payment were not accomplished within a reasonable time frame established by applicable regulation for completion of the payment process.

66 M.J. at 277 n.5. The dissenters, however, rejected any binding effect of 10 U.S.C § 1168(a):

[Here] we have a case in which the discharge was ordered at the highest level within the military department, the servicemember cooperated in the separation process with no allegation of fraud on his part, the local command did not place a legal hold on the servicemember, the local command issued a discharge certificate to the servicemember, and the command did not seek to revoke the discharge until several days after the certificate was issued. Under these circumstances, Hart’s military status terminated on the date that the command delivered the discharge certificate to him.

66 M.J. at 280 (Effron, C.J., dissenting). Of the five CAAF judges who decided Hart, only two remain on the court: Chief Judge Stucky (who joined the dissent in Hart), and Judge Ryan (who was in the majority).

Now, in Christensen, CAAF will revisit both the underlying holding of Hart (that final pay must be ready for delivery for a discharge to terminate court-martial jurisdiction), and also the caveat from footnote 5 (the effect, if any, of delay) because where Hart involved only days of delay between issuance and revocation of the discharge certificate, Christensen involves a great many months and a plethora of aggravating factors.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the interlocutory Army case of United States v. Hendrix, No. 18-0133/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review to determine:

Whether the military judge abused his discretion by dismissing the charge and specifications with prejudice for a violation of R.C.M. 707.

“There are a number of sources of the right to a speedy trial in the military: (1) statute of limitations; (2) Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; (3) Sixth Amendment speedy-trial guarantee; (4) Articles 10 and 33 of the [UCMJ]; (5) RCM 707, [Manual for Courts-Martial]; and (6) case law.” United States v. Reed, 41 M.J. 449, 451 (C.A.A.F. 1995). These sources broadly fall into three categories: Constitutional, statutory, and regulatory. This case involves the regulatory, R.C.M. 707, speedy trial right.

The accused, Private (E-2) Hendrix, was charged with two specifications of sexual assault on November 29, 2016. The alleged victim declined to participate in any prosecution, and the convening authority dismissed the charges. But then – three days later – the alleged victim changed her mind and the charges were re-preferred one day after that. Hendrix was then arraigned on June 8, 2017; 156 days after the first preferral.

That arraignment exceeded the 120-day deadline in R.C.M. 707. Hendrix moved to dismiss, and the military judge granted the motion and dismissed the specification with prejudice after concluding that the convening authority’s dismissal of the original charges was a subterfuge. But the prosecution appealed and the Army CCA reversed, concluding that the dismissal was not a subterfuge because it was based on the alleged victim’s unwillingness-turned-willingness to participate. CAAF then agreed to consider the case.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Marine Corps case of United States v. Dinger, No. 17-0510/MC (CAAFlog case page), on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 10:00 a.m., at Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas. The court granted review to determine whether a court-martial may lawfully sentence a retired member to a punitive discharge, with the following issue:

10 U.S.C § 6332 states that when a person is placed in a retired status, this “transfer is conclusive for all purposes.” Can a court-martial lawfully sentence a retiree to a punitive discharge?

Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) Dinger, USMC (Ret.), pleaded guilty to two specifications of committing indecent acts, one specification of attempting to produce child pornography, two specifications of wrongfully making an indecent visual recording, and one specification of receiving, viewing, and possessing child pornography, in violation of Articles 80, 120, 120c, and 134, UCMJ. All of the offenses were committed after Dinger entered a retired status following the completion of 20 years of enlisted service in the active component of the Marine Corps. The military judge sentenced Dinger to confinement for nine years and a dishonorable discharge, and the convening authority suspended all confinement in excess of 8 years in accordance with a pretrial agreement.

The NMCCA affirmed in a published decision (76 M.J. 552) discussed here. The CCA rejected the issue now before CAAF and also rejected a separate claim that the court-martial lacked personal jurisdiction over Dinger, explaining that retired members of the active components of the armed forces remain subject to the UCMJ because “those in a retired status remain ‘members’ of the land and Naval forces who may face court-martial.” 76 M.J. at at 557.

Military retirement isn’t retirement in the ordinary meaning of the term; it’s just a change in status. Under Article 2(a)(4), the UCMJ applies to regular retirees who are entitled to pay. That category includes servicemembers who complete 20 (or more) years on active duty and accept retirement, and also those who are medically retired after less time. See United States v. Bowie, 34 C.M.R. 411, 412 (C.M.A. 1964).

The exercise of court-martial jurisdiction over retired members was the #1 Military Justice Story of 2017, and Dinger’s status as a Marine on the retired list seems indisputable. But his brief to CAAF begins by disputing it anyway:

As a civilian, Appellant appeared at his court-martial in civilian clothes.

App. Br. at 3. That Dinger was tried out of uniform is somewhat unsettling (and a better historian could probably count on one hand the number of times that’s happened under the UCMJ), but it doesn’t change the fact that he was a Marine gunnery sergeant on the retired list, entitled to pay, subject to recall, and subject to the UCMJ. In short, he was no civilian.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Jones, No. 17-0608/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, at noon. The case will be argued at the School of Law, The University of Texas at Austin. CAAF granted review of three issues involving the admission of a confession of a co-conspirator:

I. Whether admission of an alleged co-conspirators confession to law enforcement violated M.R.E. 801(d)(2)(E).

II. Whether admission of the same confession violated Appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation.

III. Whether use of the confession to corroborate otherwise unsupported essential elements in Appellant’s own confession violated M.R.E. 304(g) and United States v. Adams, 74 M.J. 137 (C.A.A.F.).

Chief Warrant Officer (W2) Jones was convicted of two specifications of larceny of military property, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, and was sentenced to confinement for 17 days, a reprimand, and to be dismissed. Jones was acquitted of a single specification of conspiracy to commit the charged larceny offenses.

The convictions arose out of Jones’ operation of a unit woodshop during a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan. The woodshop “met unit needs by completing small carpentry projects, from signage to shelving.” Gov’t Div. Br. at 3-4. It also “created numerous gifts for World War II veterans, gold-star families, foreign dignitaries, and even President Barack Obama.” App. Br. at 3.

But Jones and another Soldier – Master Sergeant (MSG Addington) – used the postal service to mail woodworking tools home, and they were charged with larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny in connection with those mailings. During separate CID interrogations, both Jones and Addington admitted to mailing the tools. During Jones’ court-martial, the prosecution offered Addington’s confession as a statement made by a co-conspirator during and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Such statements are not hearsay and are admissible under Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E) (and the equivalent Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E)). The defense objected but the military judge admitted Addington’s confession, Jones was convicted, and the Army court summarily affirmed.

Jones’ brief makes the rather-obvious point that “Addington’s confession to law enforcement was neither during nor in furtherance of any purported conspiracy.” App. Br. at 8. The point is so obvious that the Army Government Appellate Division concedes the error:

Regarding Issues Presented I and II, the government concedes that MSG Addington’s statement was improperly admitted under Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E) because it was not in furtherance of a conspiracy and, therefore, its admission violated appellant’s Confrontation Clause rights because the statement represented testimonial hearsay. However, both errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Gov’t Div. Br. at 7. But the Government Division does not concede Issue III (corroboration of Jones’ confession under the old corroboration rule), asserting that:

Even absent MSG Addington’s statement, the government provided sufficient independent evidence to raise an inference of truth for each essential fact stated in appellant’s confession.

Gov’t Div. Br. at 7.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Navy case of United States v. Barry, No. 17-0162/NA (CAAFlog case page), on Thursday, March 22, 2018, after the argument in Kelly. Two issues question whether unlawful influence tainted the convening authority’s approval of the findings and sentence:

Specified issue: Whether a Deputy Judge Advocate General can commit unlawful command influence under Article 37, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. § 837 (2012).

Granted issue: Whether military officials exerted actual unlawful command influence on the convening authority or created the appearance of doing so.

Senior Chief Special Warfare (E-8) Barry was convicted of sexual assault in violation of Article 120(b) and sentenced to confinement for three years and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority – Rear Admiral Lorge – approved the findings and sentence as adjudged, but the case was returned for a new action because Lorge’s Staff Judge Advocate erroneously advised Lorge that he had no power to reverse the findings or reduce the sentence (based on the SJA’s reading of ALNAV 051/14, which I dissected here).

Lorge then took a closer look at the case, and he began to doubt the findings. He thought about reversing the conviction (a power he had in this case). But Lorge’s SJA advised against it. So Lorge reached out to then-Rear Admiral Crawford who at the time was the Deputy Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy and with whom Lorge had previously served. Crawford later became the JAG – a position he still holds – and was promoted to Vice Admiral. Accordingly to Lorge, Crawford advised Lorge against reversing Barry’s conviction.

Ultimately, Lorge again approved the findings and sentence, but he modified the automatic reduction in rank to retain Barry at the rank of E-7. Then – in an unusual move – Lorge added the following language to his convening authority’s action:

In my seven years as a General Court-Martial Convening Authority, I have never reviewed a case that has given me greater pause than the one that is before me now. The evidence presented at trial and the clemency submitted on behalf of the accused was compelling and caused me concern as to whether SOCS Barry received a fair trial or an appropriate sentence.

Additionally, having personally reviewed the record of trial, I am concerned that the judicial temperament of the Military Judge potentially calls into question the legality, fairness, and impartially [sic] of this court-martial. The validity of the military justice system depends on the impartiality of military judges both in fact and in appearance. If prejudicial legal error was committed, I strongly encourage the Appellate Court to consider remanding this case for further proceedings or, in the alternative, disapproving the punitive discharge[.]

Appellant’s Br. at 2 (marks in original). On appeal, the Navy-Marine Corps CCA affirmed the findings and sentence, rejecting four assignments of error. CAAF summarily affirmed on April 27, 2017.

But after CAAF acted Lorge provided an affidavit to Barry’s defense counsel claiming that he didn’t believe the evidence proved Barry’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and he wanted to disapprove the findings of the court-martial, however he did not do so because of pressure based on the politicization of the military’s response to sexual assault (the #1 Military Justice Story of 2012). The primary source of that pressure is said to have been Lorge’s discussion of the case with Crawford. Barry’s defense asked CAAF to reconsider its action, and CAAF ordered a post-trial fact-finding hearing to investigate the affidavit. The Chief Trial Judge of the Air Force presided over the hearing and then issued findings late last year (discussed here).

CAAF then ordered briefs filed on the issues shown above that functionally ask a single, two-part question: Could Crawford (then the DJAG) unlawfully influence Lorge, and if so then did he?

Read more »

In January 2015, Major Erik Burris, a former Army prosecutor, was himself convicted by a panel of officers, contrary to his pleas, of raping, forcibly sodomizing, and battering his wife. The members also convicted him of battering his daughter and disobeying a superior commissioned officer. As punishment, Major Burris was sentenced to be imprisoned for 20 years, to forfeit all pay and allowances, and to be dismissed from the service. Major Burris’ conviction and sentencing received extensive news coverage – including from international outlets like Reuters and the Daily Mail.

On March 21, 2018 at 1:30 p.m., CAAF will hear oral argument on the following issue:

Citing Rules for Courts-Martial 905(e) and 919(c), the Army Court held that the failure of Appellant’s trial defense counsel to object to improper character evidence and improper argument waived any error. This Court, however, treats such failures as forfeiture and tests for plain error. Which court is right?

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Armstrong, No. 17-0556/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. The court granted review of a single issue:

Whether assault consummated by a battery is a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm.

Captain (O-3) Armstrong was charged with abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm in violation of Article 120(d) (incorporating Article 120(b)(1)(B)) (2012). A general court-martial composed of members convicted him of assault consummated by a battery as a lesser included offense (LIO), and sentence him to be dismissed. The Army CCA summarily affirmed the findings and sentence.

The factual basis for the charge was that the alleged victim (the civilian wife of another officer) reported that she fell asleep on a couch during a party and awoke to Armstrong touching her. The specification as charged alleged that Armstrong: “commit[ed] sexual contact upon Mrs. BG, to wit: touching through the clothing the genitalia of the said Mrs. BG, by causing bodily harm to the said Mrs. BG, to wit: wedging his hands in between her thighs.” Gov’t Div. Br. at 9 (quoting record) (marks in original).

In United States v. Jones, CAAF explained that “the due process principle of fair notice mandates that an accused has a right to know what offense and under what legal theory he will be convicted; an LIO meets this notice requirement if it is a subset of the greater offense alleged.” 68 M.J. 465, 468 (C.A.A.F. 2010) (marks and citation omitted). When the decision was issued we analogized it to an easy button for determining LIOs.

The question in this case is whether the elements of assault consummated by a battery are a subset of the elements of abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm

Read more »

A court-martial panel with enlisted representation convicted Sergeant Kelly, contrary to his pleas, of sexually assaulting a fellow noncommissioned officer who had become inebriated in his home after a night of drinking and playing board games. The members sentenced Sergeant Kelly to a dishonorable discharge, confinement for a year, total forfeitures of pay and allowances, and reduction to the lowest enlisted grade. That sentence was adjudged after the military trial judge instructed the panel that a dishonorable discharge was a mandatory punishment for Sergeant Kelly’s offense.

Before the Army Court, among other errors, Kelly asserted that the prosecutor’s argument (asserting that his in-court testimony was false) was improper, and that his sentence to a dishonorable discharge was inappropriately severe. In a published decision, the Army Court found that defense counsel’s failure to object to the prosecutor’s argument waived (rather than forfeited) that issue. As to Kelly’s request that his punitive discharge be set aside, the court held that it lacked the authority to even consider disturbing the mandatory minimum punitive discharge in a sexual assault case. United States v. Kelly, 76 M.J. 793 (A.C.C.A. 2017) (discussed here and discussed here).

From this background, on 22 March 2018 at 9:30 a.m., CAAF will hear oral argument on two issues. The first issue was raised by Kelly in the supplement to his petition for grant of review (discussed here):

Whether the Court of Criminal Appeals has the authority to disapprove a mandatory minimum punitive discharge.

On Kelly’s urging (see the footnote in Kelly’s Reply at *2), the Court specified the second issue itself (discussed here):

In light of this Court’s decisions in United States v. Sewell, 76 M.J. 14 (C.A.A.F. 2017) [CAAFLog case page] and United States v. Pabelona, 76 M.J. 9 (C.A.A.F. 2017) [CAAFlog case page] did the lower court err when it determined the standard of review was waived when there was no objection to improper argument?

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Navy case of United States v. Andrews, No.17-0480/NA (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review of a single issue:

The lower court found severe prosecutorial misconduct. Then it affirmed the findings and sentence, giving its imprimatur to the prosecutorial misconduct in Appellant’s case. Did the lower court err?

Quartermaster Seaman Apprentice (E-2) Andrews pleaded guilty to fleeing apprehension, making a false official statement, wrongful use of marijuana, and larceny. But he pleaded not guilty to three sexual offenses. After a contested trial before members, Andrews was convicted of one of those three offenses: sexual assault of a person who was incapable of consenting due to impairment by alcohol.

Andrews admitted to the sexual encounter in a pretrial statement to military criminal investigators, however he claimed it was consensual. At trial he raised the defenses of consent and mistake of fact as to consent. Both sides presented evidence relevant to these defenses, but in closing argument the prosecution crossed the line.

Specifically, the Navy-Marine Corps CCA concluded that prosecutorial misconduct occurred during closing arguments when the assistant trial counsel called Andrews a liar, inappropriately mischaracterized Andrews’ statement to law enforcement, asserted that even Andrews’ defense counsel did not believe him, and misstated the law regarding capability to consent. Nevertheless:

while acknowledging that TC’s misconduct was severe, and assuming arguendo that the curative measures taken by the military judge were inadequate, we are “confident that the members convicted the appellant” of having sex with Ms. AB, while he knew or reasonably should have known that she was incapable of consenting, “on the basis of the evidence alone.” Sewell, 76 M.J. at *1415 ( citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

United States v. Andrews, No. 201600208, slip op. at 20 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 27, 2017).

At first look, CAAF’s grant of review appears to be limited to that finding of harmlessness. But the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Government Division asks CAAF to look beyond it in two ways. First, the Government Division’s brief asserts that “failure to object to improper argument constitutes waiver,” Gov’t Div. Br. at 20, even though the NMCCA explicitly rejected this argument (discussed here), the Army CCA doubts it was right to accept this argument (discussed here), and CAAF will address its in a different case to be argued (by me) next month (grant noted here). Second, the Government Division disagrees with some of the CCA’s conclusions that the prosecution’s arguments were improper.

Nevertheless, in recent decisions CAAF repeatedly affirmed convictions despite conduct by prosecutors that “left much to be desired,” United States v. Short, __ M.J. __, __, slip op. at 5 (C.A.A.F. Jan. 5, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), where it amounted to “gross governmental misconduct,” United States v. Claxton, 76 M.J. 356, 361 (C.A.A.F. 2017) (CAAFlog case page), and even when “the prosecutorial misconduct . . . was sustained and severe.” United States v. Hornback, 73 M.J. 155, 160 (C.A.A.F. 2014) (CAAFlog case page). That is largely because when reviewing prosecutorial misconduct, CAAF “gauge[s] the overall effect of counsel’s conduct on the trial, and not counsel’s personal blameworthiness.” United States v. Rodriguez-Rivera, 63 M.J. 372, 378 (C.A.A.F. 2006) (citations omitted).

Andrews’ brief, however, makes personal blameworthiness a significant aspect of this case.

Read more »