CAAFlog » Article 62 Appeals

Article 62 authorizes interlocutory appeals by the prosecution in a court-martial in various situations, including of:

An order or ruling which excludes evidence that is substantial proof of a fact material in the proceeding.

Art. 62(a)(1)(B). It’s a relatively new provision in the Code, having been added by the Military Justice Act of 1983, Pub. L. No. 98-209 (with additional grounds for appeal added in 1996).

Rule for Courts-Martial 908 details procedural steps for such an appeal, but it does not define the term (or perhaps terms) substantial proof of a fact material in the proceeding, leaving the matter up to the appellate court acting on the appeal.

The Judge Advocate General of the Army has a problem with that:

No. 17-0408/AR. United States, Appellant v. Erik P. Jacobsen, Appellee. CCA 20160786. Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals on appeal by the United States under Article 62, UCMJ, and a supporting brief were filed under Rule 22, together with a motion to stay trial proceedings on this date on the following issue:

WHETHER THE TRIAL COUNSEL’S CERTIFICATION THAT EVIDENCE IS “SUBSTANTIAL PROOF OF A FACT MATERIAL IN THE PROCEEDING” IS CONCLUSIVE FOR PURPOSES OF ESTABLISHING APPELLATE JURISDICTION UNDER ARTICLE 62(a)(1)(B), UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE.

Appellee will file an answer under Rule 22(b) on or before May 25, 2017.

I don’t see an opinion on the Army CCA’s website. Update: a reader forwarded the CCA’s order. It’s available here. The order states, in part:

Contrary to appellant’s claim, the military judge did not issue “[a]n order or ruling which excludes evidence that is substantial proof of a fact material in the proceeding.” UCMJ art. 62(a)(l)(B) (emphasis added). Although Congress intended to provide military prosecutors, to the extent practicable, with the same rights of appeal afforded to federal civilian prosecutors in 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (i.e., the right to appeal trial rulings dismissing charges or excluding substantive evidence), the jurisdictional language codified by Congress in Article 62, UCMJ, differs from 18 U.S.C. § 3731. See United States v. Lopez de Victoria, 66 M.J. 67, 68-71 (C.A.A.F. 2008) (explaining the general intent of Congress in enacting Article 62, UCMJ).

Specifically, the plain language of 18 U.S.C. § 3731 confers appellate jurisdiction over trial orders suppressing evidence, only conditioned upon timely certification from the United States attorney. United States v. Grace, 526 F.3d 499, 505-06 (9th Cir. 2008) (en bane). In contrast, the plain language of Article 62(a)(l), UCMJ, confers appellate jurisdiction for orders or rulings that actually meet specified criteria. Although Article 62(a)(2), UCMJ, contains similar timeliness and certification requirements to 18 U.S.C. § 3731, these requirements are listed separate and apart from the jurisdictional basis. Essentially, 18 U.S.C. § 3731 vests the determination of the materiality of the excluded evidence solely with the United States attorney; in this important respect, Article 62, UCMJ, is not analogous. When Congress intends to confer the right to appeal based solely on the certification of a specified officer, it is perfectly capable of making that intention clear in statutory language. Compare 18 U.S.C. § 3731, and Article 67(a)(2), UCMJ, with Article 62(a), UCMJ.

Read more »

In United States v. Mangahas, Misc. Dkt. No. 2016-10 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Ap. 4., 2017) (link to slip op.), a three judge panel of the Air Force CCA grants a Government appeal and reverses a military judge’s ruling that dismissed a charge of rape with prejudice. The dismissal was granted after the military judge found that pre-preferral delay deprived the accused of due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The allegation dates back to February 1997, when the accused and the alleged victim were cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy. The charges were preferred eighteen years later, in October 2015.

Read more »

CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Army case of United States v. Gurczynski, No. 17-0139/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, after the argument in Richards. A single issue continues an interlocutory Government appeal of a military judge’s ruling suppressing evidence:

Whether the military judge erred in suppressing evidence of child pornography a digital forensic examiner discovered during a search for appellee’s communications with a child victim.

Private (E-1) Gurczynski is charged with two specifications of wrongful possession of child pornography, and the suppressed evidence is the images that are the subject of the specifications. These charges are tangentially related to Gurczynski’s commission of sexual offenses with a child (and other offenses) to which he pleaded guilty in 2014 (CCA op. here). The images were discovered on devices seized from Gurczynski pursuant to a warrant that authorized a search for evidence of communications with the child victim.

In his ruling suppressing the images the military judge found that:

“[SA CJP] opened item 18 – the thumb drive – and saw several file names of videos normally associated with child pornography” and “[SA CJP] immediately suspected that these video files were child pornography.” (JA 167) (emphasis added). The military judge did not find SA CJP saw an image preview indicative of child pornography, nor did he find that SA CJP’s suspicion was based on an image preview. (JA 167).

The military judge also found that “[w]ithout seeking or obtaining a new search warrant, [SA CJP] opened one file and viewed it and determined that, based upon his professional experience in such matters, the video was child pornography.” (JA 167).

Appellee’s Br. at 10. The military judge determined that this action exceeded the scope of the warrant and suppressed the resulting images. The Army CCA affirmed. Gurczynski’s brief relies heavily on the military judge’s finding of fact as a basis to affirm the suppression.

The Army Appellate Government Division, however, asserts that the military judge got the facts wrong:

Read more »

At the end of last month CAAF received a certification from the Army JAG and the court granted review in a Coast Guard case.

The certification involves a Government appeal of military judge’s ruling that suppressed the fruits of a search of the accused’s mobile phone:

No. 17-0153/AR. United States, Appellant v. Edward J. Mitchell, II, Appellee. CCA 20150776. Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals on appeal by the United States under Article 62, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 862, and a supporting brief under Rule 22, together with a motion to stay trial proceedings were filed on this date on the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE FIFTH AMENDMENT’S SELF-INCRIMINATION CLAUSE IS VIOLATED WHEN A SUSPECT VOLUNTARILY UNLOCKS HIS PHONE WITHOUT GIVING HIS PERSONAL IDENTIFICATION NUMBER TO INVESTIGATORS.

II. WHETHER THE EDWARDS RULE IS VIOLATED WHEN INVESTIGATORS ASK A SUSPECT, WHO HAS REQUESTED COUNSEL AND RETURNED TO HIS PLACE OF DUTY, TO UNLOCK HIS PHONE INCIDENT TO A VALID SEARCH AUTHORIZATION.

III. WHETHER, ASSUMING INVESTIGATORS VIOLATED APPELLANT’S FIFTH AMENDMENT PRIVILEGE OR THE EDWARDS RULE, THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED BY SUPPRESSING THE EVIDENCE.

The Army CCA affirmed the military judge’s ruling in a short opinion available here.

The grant involves a specification under Article 120b that was changed during the trial to allege a different specific sexual act, and a specification under Article 134 that lacked words of criminality such as wrongfully:

No. 17-0028/CG. U.S. v. Shane E. Reese. CCA 1422. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN ALLOWING THE GOVERNMENT TO MAKE A MAJOR CHANGE TO A SPECIFICATION AFTER THE COMPLAINING WITNESS’S TESTIMONY DID NOT SUPPORT THE OFFENSE AS ORIGINALLY CHARGED.

II. WHETHER THE SPECIFICATION OF THE ADDITIONAL CHARGE FAILS TO STATE AN OFFENSE WHERE THE TERMINAL ELEMENT FAILED TO ALLEGE WORDS OF CRIMINALITY AND WHERE THE ALLEGED CONDUCT FELL WITHIN A LISTED OFFENSE OF ARTICLE 134, UCMJ.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Coast Guard CCA’s opinion is available here. The CCA rejected both issues concluding that the amended specification alleged an act that was essentially included in the original act alleged, and also that words of criminality are not necessarily required (in accordance with United States v. Tevelein, 75 M.J. 708 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. 2016) (discussed here)). However, one judge dissented and would have dismissed the Article 134 specification due to the omission of words of criminality.

Right on the heels of CAAF’s grant in Richards (discussed here) comes this certification by the Judge Advocate General of the Army yesterday:

No. 17-0139/AR. United States, Appellant v. Justin M. Gurczyski, Appellee. CCA 20160402. Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals was filed under Rule 22 on this date on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN SUPPRESSING EVIDENCE OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY A DIGITAL FORENSIC EXAMINER DISCOVERED DURING A SEARCH FOR APPELLEE’S COMMUNICATIONS WITH A CHILD VICTIM.

The Army CCA’s opinion is available here.

The accused is charged with two specifications of wrongful possession of child pornography, and the suppressed evidence is the images that are the subject of the specifications. These charges are tangentially related to the accused’s commission of sexual offenses with a child (and other offenses) to which he pleaded guilty in 2014 (CCA op. here). The images were discovered on a flash drive and a hard drive seized from the accused pursuant to a warrant in connection with those other charges but not actually searched until after the guilty pleas. The warrant authorized a search for evidence that the accused communicated with his child victim. During the search, however:

[W]hen SA CP opened the thumb drive during the DFE, he saw several file names of videos normally associated with child pornography, as well as a photo of the appellant. SA CP, suspecting the video files contained child pornography, and without obtaining a new or expanded search warrant, opened one of the files and concluded, based on his professional experience, that it was child pornography. After that, SA CP searched other media seized from appellant’s home and found additional child pornography on a computer hard drive.

Slip op. at 3. “Based on these facts, the military judge concluded CID exceeded the scope of the warrant in searching the thumb drive and granted appellant’s motion to suppress the child pornography found on the thumb drive and computer hard drive.” Slip op. at 3. The CCA affirmed.

Having solved CAAF’s dismissal of the petition for review in Rivera, we can now speculate about this denial of an extension of time for the Judge Advocate General of the Navy to certify a Government appeal, from Friday’s daily journal:

No. 17-0034/NA. U.S. v. Richard A. Latour. CCA 201600114. Notice is hereby given that a motion for an enlargement of time to file a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, and motion to stay the trial proceedings were filed under Rule 30 on this 21st day of October, 2016. On consideration thereof, it is ordered that said motions are hereby denied.

In United States v. Latour, 75 M.J. 723 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App, Jul 12, 2016) (discussed here), a three-judge panel of the NMCCA rejected a Government appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling that excluded the accused’s admissions for lack of corroboration.

In a published decision in United States v. Latour, 75 M.J. 723, No. 201600114 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App, Jul 12, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the NMCCA rejects a Government appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling that excluded the accused’s admissions for lack of corroboration.

Confessions, and the corroboration rule (Mil. R. Evid. 304(c)), were our #10 Military Justice Story of 2015, and the corroboration rule was changed (significantly relaxed) in this year’s amendments to the Manual for Courts-Martial. However, Latour involves the old rule because the accused was arraigned before the change.

The accused is charged with four specification of sexual assault. Two of those specification allege that he penetrated the alleged victim’s vulva with his penis and with his finger, both while she was incapable of consenting due to impairment by a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance.

The admissions requiring corroboration are the accused’s statement to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in which he admitted to the penetrations but asserted that they were consensual, and the accused’s text message to the alleged victim that, “[w]e made whoopy lol.” Slip op. at 2-3 (marks in original).

However, “no witness, including [the alleged victim], testified to observations, physical sensations, or injuries that corroborated sexual activity. Investigators found no physical evidence of sexual activity, whether DNA or a condom wrapper.” Slip op. at 13. Accordingly, the military judge prohibited the prosecution from introducing the admissions, leading to the appeal.

In affirming the military judge’s ruling, the CCA rejects three arguments advanced by the Government.

Read more »

In United States v. Buford, No. 2016-04 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Jun. 9, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Air Force CCA grants a Government appeal under Article 62 and reverses the suppression of the accused’s statement to criminal investigators, concluding that the military judge made incomplete findings of fact regarding the accused’s invocation of his right to a lawyer. Writing for the panel, Judge Brown vacates the suppression remands and remands the case for further proceedings. However, one member of the panel, Judge Dubriske, dissents in part, and would hold that that the military judge’s findings were clearly erroneous and that any request the accused made for an attorney was ambiguous.

In an opinion issued yesterday the Army CCA denies a Government appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling regarding defense access to classified information in the Bergdahl case.

The opinion is available here.

In a published decision in United States v. Meador, 75 M.J. 682, No. 20160419 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 19, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Coast Guard CCA grants a Government appeal and reverses the military judge’s ruling that dismissed a charge because the Article 32 Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO) found that probable cause did not exist. Writing for the panel, Judge Judge holds that:

The statutory scheme does not make the PHO’s determination as to probable cause binding on the SJA or the convening authority (CA).

Slip op. at 2. The case involves the same military judge, and the CCA’s decision is authored by the same appellate military judge, as in the CCA’s recent decision in United States v. Mercier, 75 M.J. 643, No. 20160318 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 18, 2016) (discussed here), in which the CCA held that the Government must present some evidence to support a Staff Judge Advocate’s Article 34(a)(2) determination that s specification is warranted by the evidence.

In Meador, comparing the text of Article 32 to that of Article 34, Judge Judge finds that:

There is nothing in this statutory scheme that makes a determination of probable cause by the PHO a precondition of referral to a general court-martial, nor is there any language making the PHO’s determination binding on the SJA or the CA. By contrast, the SJA’s advice is a clear precondition of referral to a general court-martial. The statutory language consequently provides no support for the proposition that the PHO’s determination of probable cause is dispositive.

Slip op. at 3.

In United States v. Mercier, 75 M.J. 643, No. 20160318 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 18, 2016) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the court denies a Government interlocutory appeal of a military judge’s ruling that found that a specification was improperly referred and dismissed the specification without prejudice.

The specification at issue alleges a violation of Article 134 by communicating certain indecent language to a civilian woman. The woman did not participate in the Article 32 preliminary hearing, and the preliminary hearing officer’s report concluded that there was no probable cause to believe that the accused communicated the language because of the lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the convening authority’s staff judge advocate recommended referral of the charge on the basis that “the specification is supported by the expected testimony of Ms. C.M.” Slip op. at 2.

The specification was referred to a general court-martial, the accused objected, and the military judge agreed:

On November 25, 2015, the defense moved to dismiss Specification 6 of Charge II, arguing that (1) since no probable cause existed to support Charge II, specification 6, referral to a general court-martial violated the accused’s right to due process; and (2) that the Article 34 advice was misleading in that it stated that the charges were “warranted by the evidence indicated in [the PHO’s report].” A hearing on the defense’s motion was held on 14 December 2015. The military judge granted the defense’s motion on January 5, 2016, dismissing Specification 6 of Charge II. The military judge also held that “even if a determination by the PHO that probable cause exists is not a necessary precondition to referral to a GCM . . . to the extent the Article 34 advice relied on evidence not before the PHO, it is defective.”

Slip op. at 3 (omission in original).

Judge Judge, writing for the CCA, addresses only the military judge’s conclusion that the staff judge advocate’s advice was defective because it relied on expected testimony that was not part of the preliminary hearing report, concluding that “the Article 34 advice was therefore defective.” Slip op. at 5.

This conclusion involves two significant holdings.

Read more »

CAAF decided the interlocutory Army case of United States v. Henning, 75 M.J. 187, No. 16-0026/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, March 21, 2016. Directly reviewing the military judge’s ruling – without considering the opinion of the Army CCA that reversed the judge – CAAF concludes that the military judge did not abuse his discretion when he excluded DNA evidence. CAAF reverses the CCA’s decision, reinstates the military judge’s ruling, and lifts a stay of the trial proceedings.

Chief Judge Erdmann writes for a unanimous court.

The accused is charged with “waking the alleged victim by touching her breast, then wrongfully penetrating her vagina with his tongue before moving her to the floor and allegedly raping her.” Slip op. at 2. The DNA evidence at issue is from genetic material found in the alleged victim’s underwear that matches a sample from the accused but would also match a sample from approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population.

The DNA analysis was performed by the Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory using a modified version of the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) guidelines. Further, beyond the modified analytical formula, the analysis involved a very small sample of genetic material consisting of “the equivalent to three or four human cells.” Slip op. at 5. According to a defense expert witness, “the slight amount of DNA analyzed was about one-fiftieth the amount recommended for a reliable result.” Slip op. at 4.

The defense challenged the admissibility of the DNA evidence and the military judge concluded that the results were unreliable and suppressed them. However, the Army CCA reversed after concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous. CAAF then stayed the trial proceedings and granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court applied the wrong standard of review to this Article 62, UCMJ, appeal when it found the military judge made erroneous findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law.

Chief Judge Erdmann’s opinion for the unanimous court makes two key holdings.

First, despite the wording of the granted issue, Chief Judge Erdmann explains that in an Article 62 appeal CAAF reviews the military judge’s ruling directly, and he notes that “the CCA’s decision and analysis is not relevant to [that] review.” Slip op. at 7 n.13.

Second, considering the record and the military judge’s ruling, Chief Judge Erdmann finds no flaw in either the military judge’s findings of fact or his conclusions of law. Slip op. at 10. However, the court does not go so far as to actually agree with the military judge on the underlying question of reliability:

We do not hold that the KCPCL’s modified formula is unreliable. We only hold it was not an abuse of discretion for the military judge to find the government had not met its burden of showing the formula was reliable in this case.

Slip op. at 11 n.16.

Case Links:
ACCA opinion
Blog post: The Army CCA allows DNA evidence where “approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match”
• Appellant’s Brief (supplement to the petition for grant of review)
Appellee’s (Government) Brief (answer to the petition)
Blog post: Argument preview
• Oral argument audio
CAAF opinion
Blog post: Opinion analysis

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Henning, No. 16-0026/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. The case involves a Government appeal of a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case.

The DNA results included a finding that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match. The military judge concluded that the results were unreliable and suppressed them. However, the Army CCA reversed after concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous. CAAF then stayed the trial proceedings and granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court applied the wrong standard of review to this Article 62, UCMJ, appeal when it found the military judge made erroneous findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law.

The Army CCA’s decision (discussed here) includes the following description of the facts of the case:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The defense moved to suppress the DNA analysis on the basis that it “does not meet the requirements for expert testimony established by Military Rule of Evidence 702.” Slip op. at 2 (marks omitted). The military judge granted the motion, concluding in part that the formula that the laboratory used to draw conclusions about the DNA was not reliable, that the ensuing battle of the experts would create a trial-within-a-trial, and that:

9. “Using the 1 in 220 statistic, in a population as small as Weston, Missouri [the location of the alleged assault –ZDS] (1,641 in the 2010 census (citation omitted)), only 7 people could be contributors to the genetic material in Mrs. [SLN]’s underwear.”

10. Because the “Government is sure to point out that of those seven possible people, only one was in Mrs. [SLN]’s house, . . . the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, misleading the panel members, and waste of time.”

Slip op. at 6 (quoting military judge’s ruling) (all marks other than my notation are in original). But the CCA reversed, concluding in part that “once a proper foundation is laid, not only is DNA testing sufficiently reliable and admissible, but evidence of statistical probabilities of an alleged match is admissible as well.” United States v. Henning, No. 20150410, slip op. at 11 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015). The court also explained that “vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Slip op. at 10-11.

CAAF then granted review.

Read more »

In this post I discussed the Army CCA’s decision on a Government interlocutory appeal in United States v. Henning, No. 20150410 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015), in which a three-judge panel of that court reversed a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case. Specifically:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The CCA concluded that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous.

CAAF has stayed the trial proceedings and will review the CCA’s decision:

No. 16-0026/AR. U.S. v. Antiwan M. Henning. CCA 20150410. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, on appeal under Article 62, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 862 (2012), Appellant’s motion to stay the trial proceedings, and Appellee’s motion for leave to exceed the word limit, it is ordered that Appellant’s motion to stay the trial proceedings is hereby granted, pending further order of the Court, that Appellee’s motion to exceed the word limit is hereby granted, and that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT APPLIED THE WRONG STANDARD OF REVIEW TO THIS ARTICLE 62, UCMJ, APPEAL WHEN IT FOUND THE MILITARY JUDGE MADE ERRONEOUS FINDINGS OF FACT AND ERRONEOUS CONCLUSIONS OF LAW.

In accordance with Rule 19(a)(7)(A), Rules of Practice and Procedure, no further pleadings will be filed.

In a Government interlocutory appeal in United States v. Henning, No. 20150410 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Army CCA reverses a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case. Specifically:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The defense moved to suppress any evidence about the DNA analysis on the basis that it “does not meet the requirements for expert testimony established by Military Rule of Evidence 702.” Slip op. at 2 (marks omitted). The military judge granted the motion, concluding in part that the formula that the laboratory used to draw conclusions about the DNA was not reliable, that the ensuing battle of the experts would create a trial-within-a-trial, and that:

9. “Using the 1 in 220 statistic, in a population as small as Weston, Missouri [the location of the alleged assault –ZDS] (1,641 in the 2010 census (citation omitted)), only 7 people could be contributors to the genetic material in Mrs. [SLN]’s underwear.”

10. Because the “Government is sure to point out that of those seven possible people, only one was in Mrs. [SLN]’s house, . . . the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, misleading the panel members, and waste of time.”

Slip op. at 6 (quoting military judge’s ruling) (all marks other than my notation are in original).

The Government appealed and the CCA reverses by concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous.

The CCA’s opinion might reach the right result, however it will likely have unintended consequences that will fuel some (unfair) criticisms of the military justice system.

Read more »