CAAFlog » CAAF Grants

Last week CAAF granted review in an Army case and the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force filed a cross-certification in a case in which CAAF granted review last month.

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Yesterday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 19-0050/AR. U.S. v. Luke D. English. CCA 20160510. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following assigned issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS CAN FIND THE UNLAWFUL FORCE, AS ALLEGED, FACTUALLY INSUFFICIENT AND STILL AFFIRM THE FINDING BASED ON A THEORY OF CRIMINALITY NOT PRESENTED AT TRIAL.

Briefs will be filed under C.A.A.F. R. 25.

The CCA’s opinion is available here. It primarily addressed the military judge’s erroneous admission of a hearsay statement as a recorded recollection under Mil. R. Evid. 803(5). But the CCA also found part of one of the convictions to be factually insufficient:

Notwithstanding the credit we give to DE’s version of events, the evidence still has to support the charging language. With respect to some of the language in Specification 6 of Charge I, the record of trial is completely silent. Specification 6 of Charge I reads as follows:

[In that appellant] [d]id on or about 18 September 2015, at or near Fort Bliss, Texas, commit a sexual act upon Ms. [D.E.], to wit: penetrating her mouth with his penis, by unlawful force to wit: grabbing her head with his hands.

While we find there was sufficient evidence to prove appellant committed the sexual act by unlawful force, there is no evidence that he did so by “grabbing her head with his hands.” Therefore, we will strike that language in our decretal paragraph. . . .

Specification 6 of Charge I, excepting the words “to wit: grabbing her head with his hands,” is AFFIRMED. The findings of guilty as to Additional Charge I and its specifications are SET ASIDE. The remaining findings of guilty are AFFIRMED.

Slip op. at 10-11 (modifications in original). The obvious question is: if there was no evidence that the appellant grabbed the alleged victim with his hands, then what (if any) unlawful force did he use?

Yesterday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 19-0087/AR. U.S. v. Deontray D. Coleman. CCA 20170013. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following assigned issue:

WHETHER SPECIFICATION 1 OF CHARGE VII IS MULTIPLICIOUS WITH SPECIFICATION 1 OF CHARGE I, AS THEY ARE PART OF THE SAME TRANSACTION.

Briefs (on the issue of multiplicity and not unreasonable multiplication of charges) will be filed under C.A.A.F. R. 25.

The CCA’s opinion is available here but does not address the granted issue.

Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) permits admission of evidence of uncharged acts for non-propensity purposes such as proving knowledge, intent, or the existence of a plan.

In the Air Force case of United States v. Hyppolite, No. 39358 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 25, 2018) (link to slip op.), the Air Force CCA considered convictions of unlawful sexual touchings of four individuals where the prosecution was allowed to use each alleged touching as evidence of the accused’s plan to commit the other touchings:

The Government argued . . . that Appellant’s conduct admitted to prove each charged offense could properly be used under Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) as evidence that Appellant had a pattern or common plan of engaging in sexual conduct with his friends after they had been drinking and were asleep or trying to fall asleep.

Slip op. at 8. Of five charged specifications (one of which – specification 2 – resulted in an acquittal) the CCA concluded that some were admissible as evidence of a plan to commit others, but all were not admissible to prove all:

the military judge erred in concluding that evi-dence of sexual contact supporting Specifications 1–3 made more probable a fact of consequence for Specifications 4 and 5 and vice versa.

Slip op. at 11. The CCA then found one conviction (specification 1) factually insufficient and the erroneous 404(b) ruling harmless with respect to the other convictions.

Last week CAAF granted review of the CCA’s finding of harmlessness:

No. 19-0119/AF. U.S. v. Ralph J. Hyppolite, II. CCA 39358. 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 granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE’S ERRONEOUS ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE REGARDING SPECIFICATIONS 1, 2, AND 3 AS A COMMON PLAN OR SCHEME FOR SPECIFICATIONS 4 AND 5 WAS HARMLESS.

Briefs will be filed under C.A.A.F. R. 25.

Article 120(b)(1)(B) (2012) prohibited sexual assault by causing bodily harm, and the definition of bodily harm included a nonconsensual sexual act or sexual contact. Since nonconsensual sexual activity is generally considered to be the definition of sexual assault, the statute functionally prohibited sexual assault by causing sexual assault.

Congress repealed that offense in Section 5430 of the Military Justice Act of 2016 (that became effective on January 1, 2019), replacing it with a new Article 120(b)(2)(A) that prohibits “commit[ting] a sexual act upon another person without the consent of the other person.”

In neither offense, however, did Congress identify a specific mens rea. Put differently, Congress didn’t say whether – to be guilty of the offense – an accused must actually know that the other person didn’t consent (actual knowledge), or recklessly disregard evidence of lack or consent (recklessness), or just fail to discover that the other person didn’t consent (negligence). Congress also could have said (but didn’t say) that the accused’s knowledge doesn’t matter (strict liability). Accordingly, the mens rea applicable to the offense is an open question. And mens rea is a pretty hot topic these days (it was the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017).

CAAF already granted review to decide the issue, in the Army case of United States v. McDonald, No. 18-0308/AR (grant of review discussed here). The Army CCA also just issued a published decision on the issue, holding that the minimum mens rea applicable to the offense is recklessness, in United States v. Peebles, __ M.J. __, No. 20170044 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan 10, 2019) (discussed here).

But last week CAAF granted review in another case involving the same issue:

No. 19-0051/AR. U.S. v. Korey B. Kangich. CCA 20170170. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN APPLYING A NEGLIGENT MENS REA TO MAKE OTHERWISE LAWFUL CONDUCT CRIMINAL.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The CCA summarily affirmed without a written decision. Specialist (E-4) Kangich was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of sexual assault by causing bodily harm, in violation of Article 120(b)(1)(B), where the bodily harm was two nonconsensual sexual acts. He was sentenced to confinement for 24 months, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

Yesterday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 18-0359/AR. U.S. v. Michael L. Haynes, Jr. CCA 20160817. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issues:

I. WHETHER AN APPELLANT IS AUTHORIZED TO REQUEST PIERCE CREDIT FOR THE FIRST TIME AT A COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS.

II. IF THE ARMY CCA ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE FAILURE TO REQUEST PIERCE CREDIT BELOW CONSTITUTED WAIVER, WAS ITS ACTUAL REVIEW OF THIS ISSUE UNDER ITS ARTICLE 66(c), UCMJ, AUTHORITY STILL SUFFICIENT?

Briefs will be filed under C.A.A.F. R. 25.

Pierce credit is credit at a court-martial for prior nonjudicial punishment for the same offense. In United States v. Pierce the Court of Military Appeals (CAAF’s predecessor court) concluded that:

It does not follow that a servicemember can be twice punished for the same offense or that the fact of a prior nonjudicial punishment can be exploited by the prosecution at a court-martial for the same conduct. Either consequence would violate the most obvious, fundamental notions of due process of law. Thus, in these rare cases, an accused must be given complete credit for any and all nonjudicial punishment suffered: day-for-day, dollar-for-dollar, stripe-for-stripe.

27 M.J. 367, 369 (C.M.A. 1989) (emphasis in original). More recently, CAAF observed that:

The accused, as gatekeeper, may choose whether to introduce the record of a prior NJP for the same act or omission covered by a court-martial finding and may also choose the forum for making such a presentation.

United States v. Gammons, 51 M.J. 169, 183 (C.A.A.F. 1999). Then, the court explained, the cognizant authority will determine the appropriate credit:

If the accused chooses to raise the issue of credit for prior punishment during an Article 39(a) session rather than on the merits during sentencing, the military judge will adjudicate the specific credit to be applied by the convening authority against the adjudged sentence in a manner similar to adjudication of credit for illegal pretrial confinement. If the accused chooses to raise the issue of credit for prior punishment before the convening authority, the convening authority will identify any credit against the sentence provided on the basis of the prior NJP punishment. Likewise, if the issue is raised before the Court of Criminal Appeals, that court will identify any such credit.

Gammons, 51 M.J. at 184.

The Army CCA issued a published opinion in Haynes available here and at 77 M.J. 753, finding waiver but with a catch:

[W]e read Gammons as requiring an accused to raise the issue of Pierce credit to either the court-martial or to the CA to avoid waiver as a matter of law. If waived, no relief can be obtained as a matter of law from this court. United States v. Gladue, 67 M.J. 311, 313 (C.A.A.F. 2009) (explaining that a valid waiver of an issue at trial extinguishes the alleged error on appeal).

Here, appellant waived any entitlement to Pierce credit when he affirmatively told the military judge that he was not entitled to any additional confinement credit and stipulated (see below) that the Article 15 addressed post-preferral misconduct. As cited in Gammons, this is also consistent with R.C.M. 1001(b)(2) (for personnel records of an accused introduced during sentencing, “[o]bjections not asserted are waived”).

77 M.J. at 757, slip op. at 6. The catch is that the CCA found that the stipulated facts preclude any credit, because “the Article 15 and the charged offense addressed separate misconduct.” Haynes, 77 M.J. at 757, slip op. at 6. CAAF has addressed such a situation before, with the explanation that:

[A]lthough Pierce precludes double punishment for the same offense, it does not preclude multiple punishments for multiple offenses. . .

United States v. Bracey, 56 M.J. 387, 389 (C.A.A.F. 2002).

Yesterday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 18-0347/AR. Michael J. Gonzales. CCA 20130849. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:

WHETHER AGGRAVATED SEXUAL CONTACT OF A CHILD IS A LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE OF RAPE OF A CHILD.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The only opinion available on the Army CCA’s website is this one from 2017, in which the CCA set aside the findings and authorized a rehearing because of a Hills error. That opinion addressed convictions for acts alleged to have occurred in 2010 and 2011. At that time Article 120(b) defined the offense of rape of a child as:

(b) Rape of a Child.-Any person subject to this chapter who-

(1) engages in a sexual act with a child who has not attained the age of 12 years; or

(2) engages in a sexual act under the circumstances described in subsection (a) with a child who has attained the age of 12 years;

is guilty of rape of a child and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Additionally, Article 120(g) defined the offense of aggravated sexual contact with a child as:

(g) Aggravated Sexual Contact With a Child.-Any person subject to this chapter who engages in or causes sexual contact with or by another person, if to do so would violate subsection (b) (rape of a child) had the sexual contact been a sexual act, is guilty of aggravated sexual contact with a child and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Sexual act and sexual contact were defined in Article 120(t) as:

(1) Sexual act.-The term “sexual act” means-

(A) contact between the penis and the vulva, and for purposes of this subparagraph contact involving the penis occurs upon penetration, however slight; or

(B) the penetration, however slight, of the genital opening of another by a hand or finger or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

(2) Sexual contact.-The term “sexual contact” means the intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of another person, or intentionally causing another person to touch, either directly or through the clothing, the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

On Monday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 18-0364/AR. U.S. v. Michael E. Harris. CCA 20170100. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT ERRONEOUSLY AFFIRMED THE MILITARY JUDGE’S DENIAL OF 291 DAYS OF ALLEN CREDIT FOR PRETRIAL CONFINEMENT APPELLANT SERVED IN A CIVILIAN CONFINEMENT FACILITY AWAITING DISPOSITION OF STATE OFFENSES FOR WHICH HE WAS LATER COURT-MARTIALED.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The appellant was charged with child pornography offenses by the State of Florida and released on bond. He then fled to Cambodia. He was eventually returned to Florida and confined pending trial, but Florida authorities dismissed the case because of witness issues. He was then ordered into pretrial confinement and ultimately pleaded guilty at a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone to wrongful possession of child pornography and desertion. The military judge, however, rejected his request for confinement credit for the time spent in custody in Florida.

Army CCA affirmed in a published decision, available here (78 M.J. 521). It concluded:

The state of Florida did not confine appellant until after he fled to Cambodia and failed to appear to face the Florida child pornography charges. Appellant was charged and placed in pre-trial confinement for the offense of fleeing Florida’s criminal process. The state of Florida was not acting on behalf of the Army and he was not being held in confinement at the request of the Army. The fact appellant’s confinement by the state of Florida exceeded his eventual sentence for the crime of failure to appear does not obligate the Federal government to lessen the appellant’s punishment for different offenses against the Federal sovereign.

78 M.J. at 525.

Last Thursday CAAF granted review in two cases:

No. 18-0350/CG. U.S. v. Michael R. Rodriguez. CCA 1450. 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 granted on the following issue:

WHETHER UNITED STATES v. ORBEN, WHICH ESTABLISHED WHAT THE GOVERNMENT MUST SHOW TO PROVE INTENT FOR INDECENT LIBERTIES UNDER ARTICLE 134 (THE PRECURSOR TO ARTICLE 120b), APPLIES TO THE INTENT ELEMENT OF ARTICLE 120b(c), SEXUAL ABUSE OF A CHILD.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Coast Guard CCA’s decision is available here. The case involves a conviction for sexual abuse of a child based upon Rodriguez kissing a child’s feet with an intent to arouse or gratify his own sexual desire. To prove Rodriguez’s intent, the military judge allowed the prosecution to admit evidence of Rodriguez’ foot fetish. The CCA affirmed.

No. 18-0362/AR. U.S. v. Nicholas L. Frost. CCA 20160171. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN ADMITTING HEARSAY STATEMENTS AS PRIOR CONSISTENT STATEMENTS UNDER MIL. R. EVID. 801(d)(1)(B)(i) WHERE THE DEFENSE THEORY POSITED THE IMPROPER INFLUENCE OR MOTIVE PRECEDED THE ALLEGEDLY CONSISTENT STATEMENTS.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s opinion is available here. The CCA rejected the granted issue in a footnote, concluding: “Miss DF’s initial statement to her mother and SC in August 2013 was properly admitted by the military judge. A prior consistent statement that precedes an allegation of improper influence is not hearsay. Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B).” Slip op. at 10 n.6.

Yesterday CAAF granted review in this Air Force case:

No. 18-0372/AF. U.S. v. Paul D. Voorhees. CCA 38836. 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 granted on the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE AFCCA ERRED IN FINDING NO PLAIN ERROR DESPITE TRIAL COUNSEL’S ARGUMENT ON FINDINGS THAT PERSONALLY ATTACKED APPELLANT AND TRIAL DEFENSE COUNSEL, COMMENTED ON APPELLANT’S SILENCE, EXPRESSED HIS PERSONAL OPINIONS, BOLSTERED HIS OWN CREDIBILITY, VOUCHED FOR GOVERNMENT WITNESSES, SPECULATED, AND MADE REFERENCE TO FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE.

II. WHETHER THE AFCCA ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE SPECIFICATIONS ALLEGING VIOLATIONS OF ARTICLE 133, UCMJ, STATED AN OFFENSE DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEY LACK WORDS OF CRIMINALITY OR A MENS REA.

III. WHETHER PLAIN ERROR OCCURRED WHEN THE MILITARY JUDGE FAILED TO INSTRUCT THE MEMBERS THAT MENS REA WAS AN ELEMENT OF AN OFFENSE UNDER ARTICLE 133.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

In 2015 Major Voorhees was convicted of one specification of sexual assault by causing bodily harm and five specifications of conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, and sentenced to confinement for three years, total forfeitures, and a dismissal. On appeal the following year, in an opinion available here, the Air Force CCA found the sexual assault conviction factually insufficient and ordered a sentence rehearing. At the rehearing in 2017 a military judge sentenced Voorhees to a reprimand and to be dismissed. Then, earlier this year, the CCA again affirmed the findings of conduct unbecoming, and it affirmed the revised sentence, in an opinion available here.

On Wednesday CAAF granted review of an Army case questioning the appropriate standard for determining whether a Hills error is harmless:

No. 18-0371/AR. U.S. v. Juventino Tovarchavez. CCA 20150250. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT ERRED, FIRST, IN FINDING THAT THIS COURT OVERRULED SUB SILENCIO THE SUPREME COURT HOLDING IN CHAPMAN v. CALIFORNIA, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967), AND THIS COURT’S OWN HOLDINGS IN UNITED STATES v. WOLFORD, 62 M.J. 418, 420 (C.A.A.F. 2006), AND IN UNITED STATES v. HILLS, 75 M.J. 350, 357 (C.A.A.F. 2016), AND, CONSEQUENTLY, IN TESTING FOR PREJUDICE IN THIS CASE USING THE STANDARD FOR NONCONSTITUTIONAL ERROR.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25

Specialist Tovarchavez was charged with sexually assaulting another soldier on two occasions. The military judge instructed the members that they could use the charged offenses as evidence of Tovarchavez’s propensity to commit the charged offenses (the Hills error), and the defense did not object. Tovarchavez was then convicted of one of the two charged offenses and sentenced to confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

The Army CCA issued two opinions in this case. The first (available here) was issued on September 7, 2017, and found the Hills error to be harmless. But the CCA also ordered a DuBay hearing to consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. After the DuBay hearing, the CCA issued a second opinion (available here) that reconsidered the Hills error, leading to CAAF’s grant.

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Last year, in United States v. Reese, 76 M.J. 297 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 14, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF explained that a novel Article 134 specification must allege an act or omission that is not already an enumerated Article 134 offense, and it reversed a conviction of a novel violation of Article 134 that was intended to charge obstruction of justice but omitted elements of that enumerated offense.

On Friday CAAF granted review in this Army case:

No. 18-0305/AR. U.S. v. Michael C. Gleason. CCA 20150379. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT ERRED BY AFFIRMING A NOVEL SPECIFICATION COVERED BY AN ENUMERATED ART. 134, UCMJ OFFENSE.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s decision is available here but does not discuss this issue or the facts in detail. The novel Article 134 offense appears to be interfering with an emergency call. I’m going to engage in some pure speculation and say that the enumerated offense that might cover the conduct is either disorderly conduct (¶ 73) or communicating a threat (¶ 110). Or both.

On Thursday CAAF granted review in this Air Force case:

No. 18-0339/AF. U.S. v. Scott A. Meakin. CCA 38968. 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:

WHETHER APPELLANT’S CONVICTION FOR ENGAGING IN ANONYMOUS, PRIVATE, AND CONSENSUAL COMMUNICATIONS WITH AN UNKNOWN PARTNER(S) IN THE PRIVACY OF HIS HOME WAS LEGALLY SUFFICIENT.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The AFCCA’s opinion is available here and explains that the appellant – a Lieutenant Colonel – was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty of numerous specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for engaging in indecent online conversations. “The content of the conversations involved extremely graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and degradation of children.” Slip op. at 2. The appellant separately pleaded guilty in federal district court to wrongfully accessing child pornography.

The CCA concluded:

Here, Appellant chose to express his obscene “fantasies” via the medium of online chats and emails, and analogizes that activity to private conversations within his home which he asserts is protected free speech. Under Moore, such speech is not afforded constitutional protection.

The tension between Moore and Hartwig relied upon by Appellant has no bearing on the issue before us. Here, the court must determine whether Appellant’s online chats and emails were sufficient to constitute conduct unbecoming an officer. The content of Appellant’s online discussions were clearly indecent. The charged conduct need not actually damage the reputation of the military, instead it only has to have a tendency to do so. Although Appellant’s identity as a military member was revealed in the course of the criminal investigation, he did not have to outwardly identify himself as a member of the military for his actions to constitute conduct unbecoming an officer. Appellant’s conduct was disgraceful to himself and the reputation of the military.

Slip op. at 7 (internal citations omitted).

Mens rea was the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017 because of a series of CAAF decisions involving the mental state required to violate the UCMJ. The topic remains at CAAF, with a decision earlier this year in United States v. Blanks, 77 M.J. 239 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 28, 2018) (CAAFlog case page) (re-affirming that negligent dereliction of duty is punishable under Article 92), and with a (second) grant of review in United States v. Tucker, No. 18-0254 (CAAFlog case page).

On Tuesday CAAF granted review in another case involving mens rea:

No. 18-0308/AR. U.S. v. Cedric L. McDonald. CCA 20160339. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN INSTRUCTING THE PANEL THAT A NEGLIGENT MENS REA WAS SUFFICIENT TO MAKE OTHERWISE LAWFUL CONDUCT CRIMINAL.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s opinion is available here. The case seems to involve the mens rea required to commit sexual assault by causing bodily harm, where the bodily harm is a non-consensual sexual act, in violation of Article 120(b)(1)(B). The facts of the case, however, make it a poor vehicle for that issue. Private First Class McDonald was convicted of sexual assault and conspiracy to commit sexual assault based on an allegation that he concealed his identity in order to have sex with a woman who believed that she was having sex with another soldier. Considering such deliberate action, the CCA concluded:

Here, appellant’s misconduct of having sexual intercourse with DJ without her consent was at the very least reckless, but more likely purposeful. . . .

Based on the evidence contained in the record, it is clear appellant exploited the cover of darkness to conceal his identity from DJ as he switched places with PV2 Thomas and engaged in nonconsensual sexual intercourse with DJ. We thus conclude appellant’s misconduct was done knowingly if not, at the very least, reckless and that any lack of instruction on the scienter of recklessness was not plain error.

Slip op. at 5.

In other words, if the CCA’s recitation of the facts is even remotely accurate, it’s hard to see how McDonald’s conduct was otherwise lawful.

The Fourth Amendment generally requires law enforcement obtain a warrant prior to seizing or searching property, and the warrant must be based on probable cause. Any evidence discovered in violation of those requirements may be excluded from trial. Such exclusion is not required by the Fourth Amendment, but rather is a “a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through [a] deterrent effect.” United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348 (1974). That exclusionary rule is codified in the Military Rules of Evidence with the caveats that such exclusion must “result[] in appreciable deterrence,” and “the benefits of such deterrence [must] outweigh the costs to the justice system.” Mil. R. Evid. 311(a)(3).

But there are exceptions. One exception – also codified in the Military Rules of Evidence – involves a warrant (or military search authorization) that is somehow flawed. If a warrant is issued by competent authority with a substantial basis for finding probable cause, but is later determined to be invalid, the exclusionary rule does not apply if law enforcement “reasonably and with good faith” relied on the warrant to conduct the search or seizure. Mil. R. Evid. 311(c)(3). This good faith exception to the exclusionary rule recognizes that there is no deterrent effect, and so no justification for the practical cost of excluding evidence of wrongdoing, when a law enforcement officer “is acting as a reasonable officer would and should act in similar circumstances.” United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 920 (1984). In other words:

If the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter unlawful police conduct, then evidence obtained from a search should be suppressed only if it can be said that the law enforcement officer had knowledge, or may properly be charged with knowledge, that the search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 919 (1984) (quoting United States v. Peltier, 422 U.S. 531, 542 (1975)).

The good faith exception codified in Mil. R. Evid. 311(c)(3) applies only when:

(A) the search or seizure resulted from an authorization to search, seize or apprehend issued by an individual competent to issue the authorization under Mil. R. Evid. 315(d) or from a search warrant or arrest warrant issued by competent civil authority;

(B) the individual issuing the authorization or warrant had a substantial basis for determining the existence of probable cause; and

(C) the officials seeking and executing the authorization or warrant reasonably and with good faith relied on the issuance of the authorization or warrant. Good faith is to be determined using an objective standard.

That second requirement, however, doesn’t seem to involve the officer actually conducting the search or seizure. Applying the plain language of Mil. R. Evid. 311(c)(3)(B), if a warrant is invalid and there was no substantial basis to find probable cause to issue it, then the good faith exception does not apply no matter what the officer thought.

It’s a rule that swallows the exception, because an officer might rely on a warrant to conduct a search, and that reliance might be objectively reasonable, but the exception won’t apply if later analysis reveals that there was no basis for finding probable cause to issue the warrant. CAAF addressed this issue in United States v. Carter, and observed that the substantial basis requirement in Mil. R. Evid. 311(c)(3)(B) would – if applied as written – “effectively abolish the good faith exception in military practice.” 54 M.J. 414, 421 (C.A.A.F. 2001). CAAF then decided to interpret the requirement narrowly:

“Substantial basis” as an element of good faith examines the affidavit and search authorization through the eyes of a reasonable law enforcement official executing the search authorization. In this context, the second prong of Mil. R. Evid. 311(b)(3) is satisfied if the law enforcement official had an objectively reasonable belief that the magistrate had a “substantial basis” for determining the existence of probable cause.

Carter, 54 M.J. at 422. Put differently, if the officer exercising the warrant objectively believes that there was a substantial basis for finding probable cause to issue the warrant, then the officer acts in good faith and the exception may apply. If, however, the officer knows or should know that there wasn’t a substantial basis to find probable cause, but nevertheless exercises the warrant, then the officer is not acting in good faith and the exception won’t save the evidence from exclusion.

That interpretation was relatively settled until CAAF unsettled it in United States v. Hoffmann, 75 M.J. 120 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 18, 2016) (CAAFlog case page). Hoffmann was accused of committing indecent liberties with children, and a military commander authorized a search of Hoffman’s electronic devices for child pornography based on “an intuitive relationship between acts such as enticement or child molestation and the possession of child pornography.” 75 M.J. at 123. CAAF rejected that intuitive link as a basis for probable cause and invalidated the authorization (and reversed Hoffmann’s convictions). But CAAF also rejected application of the good faith exception, concluding that:

the individual issuing the authorization did not have a substantial basis for determining the existence of probable cause, a requirement for application of the good-faith exception.

75 M.J. at 128. That conclusion is contrary to the holding from Carter that focused the analysis on what the law enforcement officer knew or should have known about the basis for finding probable cause (and not on whether there actually was a substantial basis for finding probable cause).

CAAF acknowledged its inconsistency the following year, in United States v. Nieto, 76 M.J. 101 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 21, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), where it summarily concluded that the Army Government Appellate Division failed to establish that the good faith exception applied while observing (in a footnote) that:

We recognize the tension between our discussion of the good-faith doctrine in Hoffmann, 75 M.J. at 127-28, and Carter, 54 M.J. at 419-22. We leave for another day resolution of this tension because we conclude that under either understanding of the good-faith doctrine the Government has not met its burden of establishing this exception to the exclusionary rule in Appellant’s case.

United States v. Nieto, 76 M.J. 101, 108 n.6 (C.A.A.F. 2017).

That day has come:

No. 18-0365/MC. U.S. v. Calvin E. Perkins, Jr. CCA 201700077. 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 issues:

I. WHETHER THIS COURT’S HOLDING IN UNITED STATES v. CARTER AS APPLIED BY THE NAVY-MARINE CORPS COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS IN THIS CASE, INSTEAD OF THE PLAIN READING OF MRE 311(c) THIS COURT APPLIED IN UNITED STATES v. HOFFMANN, CONTROLS IN ANALYZING THE APPLICABILITY OF THE GOOD FAITH EXCEPTION TO THE EXCLUSIONARY RULE.

II. WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED IN DENYING A DEFENSE MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE OBTAINED FROM A SEARCH OF APPELLANT’S HOME.

The NMCCA issued a published decision in Perkins (available here) that concluded:

Carter’s approach to MIL. R. EVID. 311(c)(3) is inconsistent with the rule’s plain language, and Hoffmann’s plain-language approach is therefore inconsistent with Carter. . . .

We conclude that we are still bound by Carter. We are reluctant to assume that the CAAF has tacitly reversed its own precedent. Hoffmann made no mention of Carter and did not purport to change any precedents binding on this court. . . .

United States v. Perkins, 78 M.J. 550, 561, No. 201700077, slip op. at 13-14 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Jul. 12, 2018). The CCA then found that the good faith exception applies to the case and affirmed the findings and the sentence, but it observed that its “choice of authorities determines the outcome of this issue” and “under Hoffman, the evidence does not qualify for the exception.” Slip op. at 10-11. Furthermore, it “respectfully suggest[ed] that the CAAF resolve the tension between Carter and Hoffmann in favor of Hoffmann and the plain language of MIL. R. EVID. 311(c)(3).” Slip op. at 20 (emphasis added).

The JAG’s certification of this issue – that the Government Division won at the CCA – is unusual, but not unprecedented. The Navy JAG previously certified an issue at the request of the defense as recently as 2016. See Howell v. United States, 75 M.J. 386 (C.A.A.F. 2016) (CAAFlog case page).