CAAFlog » CAAF Opinions

CAAF decied the certified Air Force case of United States v. Katso, __ M.J. __, No. 14-5008/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. CAAF holds that the testimony of an expert witness did not violate the appellee’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him, reversing the published decision of the Air Force CCA and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Judge Ryan writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Ohlson, who dissents.

The published opinion of the Air Force CCA provides the following facts:

While celebrating her 21st birthday with several friends, Senior Airman (SrA) CA became intoxicated after consuming between 15 and 20 drinks over the course of the evening. At an off-base bar and unable to return to the base on her own, she was assisted back to her room and fell asleep on her bed. SrA CA testified that she woke up when she felt “someone having sex with [her].” She said she was attacked by someone wearing denim pants, glasses, a beanie cap, and a coat. After SrA CA struggled against him, her assailant left, and SrA CA ran into another room and told a friend she had been raped. SrA CA subsequently identified [appellee] as her attacker.

United States v. Katso, 73 M.J. 630, __, slip op. at 2 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 11, 2014). DNA samples were collected from both SrA CA and the appellee. The samples were sent to the United States Army Criminal Investigations Laboratory (USACIL) for analysis, where a forensic examiner named Mr. Fisher conducted an examination and produced a report that showed a match between the appellee’s DNA profile and semen found in the samples taken from CA. In accordance with USACIL procedure, Mr. Fisher’s report was then reviewed by a second examiner, Mr. Davenport.

The Government intended to call Mr. Fisher to testify at trial about the DNA results, but he was unavailable due to a family emergency. So the Government offered the expert testimony of Mr. Davenport instead. Mr. Davenport testified over the objection of the Defense, which objected on confrontation grounds. The military judge overruled the Defense objection, ruling that Mr. Davenport could testify about his independent findings. But a three-judge panel of the Air Force CCA unanimously concluded that Mr. Davenport improperly repeated testimonial hearsay from Mr. Fisher during his trial testimony, and that this violated the appellee’s right to confrontation. The panel then split 2-1 to find that error prejudicial, reversed the convictions, and authorized a rehearing.

The Government certified the case to CAAF, with the following issue:

Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals erred when it found Appellee’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated when the military judge permitted, over Defense objection, the testimony of the Government’s DNA expert, and that the error was not harmless

CAAF now reinstates the appellee’s convictions of aggravated sexual assault, burglary, and unlawful entry. Judge Ryan’s majority opinion conducts a detailed Confrontation Clause analysis of the testimony of Mr. Davenport, however her ultimate conclusions are solidly based on CAAF’s own precedent. Specifically, as Judge Ryan explains:

In the absence of clear guidance from the Supreme Court, we are bound, within the constraints discernible from controlling precedent, to provide a clear rule for the military justice system. Fortunately, we already have a rule. This Court’s precedent makes clear that even when an expert relies in part upon “statements” by an out-of-court declarant, the admissibility of the expert’s opinion hinges on the degree of independent analysis the expert undertook in order to arrive at that opinion. Blazier II, 69 M.J. at 224-25.

Slip op. at 24. Applying this clear rule, Judge Ryan concludes:

Experts may “review and rely upon the work of others, including laboratory testing conducted by others, so long as they reach their own opinions in conformance with evidentiary rules regarding expert opinions.” Blazier II, 69 M.J. at 224. That is precisely what happened here.

Slip op. at 25.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Blouin, __ M.J. __, No. 14-0656/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, June 25, 2015. Sharply divided, CAAF narrowly concludes that the appellant could not have understood how the child pornography laws applied to the facts of his case. Accordingly, the court reverses the appellant’s pleas of guilty to wrongful possession of child pornography, and the published decision of the Army CCA.

Judge Erdmann writes for the court, joined by Judges Stucky and Ohlson. Chief Judge Baker dissents, joined by Judge Ryan.

The appellant pleaded guilty, at a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of one specification of possession of child pornography, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8), as conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline in violation of Article 134. He was sentenced to confinement for six months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge.

As described by the Army CCA in its published opinion affirming the appellant’s pleas, the appellant entered into a stipulation of fact that approximately 173 images discovered on his electronic devices were likely child pornography. But of those 173 images, the Government provided only twelve images to the military judge at the time of the appellant’s guilty pleas. Of those twelve images, the military judge determined that only three were actually contraband child pornography as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8). Judge Erdmann’s opinion explains that the military judge then found the appellant’s pleas provident as to those three images, ruling:

Counsel, having to [sic] review Prosecution Exhibit 4, I only find three images of child pornography. I find image 1229718342693.JPEG, image 1229720242042.JPEG, and image 122972147928l.JPEG meet the definition of child pornography. The balance of the images on Prosecution Exhibit 4 do not meet that definition. Given further inquiry, I do believe that the accused is guilty of the offense as charged and I stand by my findings. Although as to those three images, I think counsel would be wise to review [United States vs. Knox 32 F.3d 733 (3d Cir. 1994)], that it can be a lascivious exhibition even if the genitals and the pubic area are clothed. So, I stand by my findings.

Slip op. at 5 (modifications in original). The three images at issues are described in detail in the Army CCA’s decision. Each depicts a young girl posing provocatively in undergarments. None depicts sexual activity or full nudity.

Nevertheless, despite the absence of sexual activity, the images may still constitute child pornography as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8) if they involve a lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area. Whether a particular image involves such an exhibition is subject to a six-factor analysis commonly known as the Dost factors. See United States v. Roderick, 62 M.J. 425, 429-30 (C.A.A.F. 2006) (citing United States v. Dost, 636 F. Supp. 828, 832 (S.D. Cal. 1986), aff’d sub nom. United States v. Wiegand, 812 F.2d 1239 (9th Cir. 1987)). One of those factors is “whether the child is fully or partially clothed, or nude.” Id. And so the fact that the three images at issue in this appeal involve non-nude children is not necessarily dispositive of the issue of whether the images are child pornography.

Yet affirming the appellant’s pleas of guilty, the Army CCA went further and:

endorse[d the] reference to Knox in the Benchbook [and] offer[ed its] decision to establish precedent on a subject not yet directly addressed in a published opinion in our jurisdiction, and hold that nudity is not required to meet the definition of child pornography as it relates to the lascivious exhibition of genitals or pubic area under Title 18 of the United States Code or Article 134, UCMJ.

Slip op. at 5-6 (quoting United States v. Blouin, 73 M.J. 694, 696 (A. Ct. Crim. App. 2014)) (modifications in original) (emphasis added).

Knox refers to a series of decisions originating in the Third Circuit that analyzed the federal definition of child pornography: United States v. Knox, 977 F 2d. 815, (3d Cir. 1992), vacated and remanded, 510 U.S. 939 (1993) (Knox I); United States v. Knox, 32 F.3d at 736, (3d Cir. 1994) (Knox II).  Specifically, in Knox II the Third Circuit held that the “federal child pornography statute, on its face, contains no nudity or discernibility requirement, that non-nude visual depictions, such as the ones contained in this record, can qualify as lascivious exhibitions.” 32 F.3d at 737. The Army CCA adopted the holding of Knox II, applied it to the images in this case, and affirmed the appellant’s pleas.

CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred by accepting Appellant’s pleas of guilty to the specification of the charge where Prosecution Exhibit 4 demonstrated that the images possessed were not child pornography.

With yesterday’s opinion, Judge Erdmann leads a bare majority of CAAF to conclude not only that the military judge erred in accepting this appellant’s pleas, but also that the CCA erred in adopting Knox II. In so holding, CAAF seemingly declares that non-nude images can not qualify as lascivious exhibitions.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Woods, __ M.J. __, No. 14-0783/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.) on Thursday, June 18, 2105. The court concludes that the military judge erred in denying the appellant’s challenge of a member who initially believed that the military employs a guilty-until-proven-innocent standard. Finding implied bias, CAAF reverses the decision of the NMCCA and the appellant’s conviction.

Chief Judge Baker writes for a nearly-unanimous court. Judge Stucky concurs in the result, but he concludes that the member should have been excused for actual bias, not implied bias.

The appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of officer members, of one specification of aggravated sexual assault in violation of Article 120, UCMJ (2006). He was sentenced to confinement for five months, total forfeitures, and a dismissal. The NMCCA affirmed the findings and sentence.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred by denying a challenge for cause against the court-martial president, who said the “guilty until proven innocent” standard is “essential” to the military’s mission.

More than half of Chief Judge Baker’s opinion is dedicated to reproducing portions of the member’s questionnaire, voir dire responses, and the military judge’s rulings on the appellant’s challenge. It begins:

in advance of Appellant’s trial, CAPT Villalobos completed a court-martial member questionnaire. In response to an open-ended question regarding her view of the military justice system, CAPT Villalobos provided the response at issue in this appeal:

[Q.] What is your opinion of the military’s criminal justice system?

[A.] There is not [a] perfect system, and I understand why the enforcement of ‘you are guilty until proven innocent’ (just the opposite as in the civilian sector) is essential because the military needs to be held to a higher standard just for reasons of our mission. It is a voluntary force and you come into the service knowing that you will be held to this higher standard[] and give up your civil rights.

Slip op. at 4 (marks in original). The defense challenge the member but the military judge denied the challenge, ruling in part that:

With respect to Captain Villalobos, I have specifically considered the liberal grant mandate and examined her answers for actual bias as well as implied bias. I am going to focus here for a minute on her answers to the member’s questionnaire pertaining to what the relevant burden of proof is in a court-martial. It’s absolutely the case that she did arrive at this court-martial under a misapprehension of what the burden of proof is at a court-martial. I don’t find that to be disqualifying. I evaluated her demeanor as she answered questions. When I asked her candidly “Did you — were you under the impression that that was the relevant standard in these cases,” and she says “Yes,” and she acknowledged that that was a misapprehension on her part.

Slip op. at 8.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Keefauver, __ M.J. __, No. 15-0029/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Friday, June 12, 2015. Extensively analyzing the requirements for a protective sweep, CAAF finds that the Government did not even attempt to meet those requirements in this case, and so the court holds that the sweep of the appellant’s on-base home was invalid. CAAF reverses the decision of the Army CCA and remands the case for further proceedings.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

The appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of two specifications of violating a general regulation by wrongfully possessing drug paraphernalia and unregistered weapons on-post, one specification of wrongful possession of marijuana, and one specification of child endangerment in violation of Articles 92, 112a, and 134. He was sentenced to confinement for four years, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. In a published decision that I discussed in this post, the Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence.

The case involves a controlled delivery of a package sent through the U.S. Mail that was suspected (and eventually discovered) to contain marijuana. Government agents obtained verbal authorization to conduct a controlled delivery of the package, but the appellant’s on-base residence was vacant. So the agents left the package by the front door, established surveillance, and waited. Eventually, the appellant’s stepson returned home and brought the package inside, and the agents followed immediately behind, seizing the package and apprehending the boy. Then, despite the immediate seizure of the suspicious package and the fact that the home was empty before the boy arrived, the agents conducted a search of the property, discovering a significant quantity of drug-related materials.

The appellant moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search. The military judge denied the appellant’s motion, ruling in part that the search was a proper protective sweep. Specifically, the judge found that the:

agents could reasonably have believed “an individual or individuals who posed a danger to the agents may have been hiding in the residence” given the quantity of marijuana present and the inference that residents were engaging in drug distribution, as “[i]t is common knowledge that drug trafficking involves violence, including the use of weapons.” The military judge [also] concluded that [the stepson]’s hostile response to the agents’ announced intent to enter the house and conduct a search supported this belief.

Slip op. at 6-7. The appellant was convicted. On review, the CCA affirmed the judge, finding the sweep proper and also applying the doctrine of inevitable discovery. CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court erred in finding that the protective sweep was appropriate in total.

Judge Ryan’s opinion for a unanimous CAAF dissects the law of protective sweeps and the agents’ rationale for the search, concluding that while a sweep in a situation like the one in this case is permissible, there was insufficient justification for a sweep in this particular case.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Ward, __ M.J. __, No. 15-0059/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, June 11, 2015. The court holds that even though the convening authority violated Article 25 when he improperly excluded members on the basis of rank, and the Government committed a discovery violation by failing to disclose the exclusionary selection criteria to the defense (both violations being the law of the case as they were found by the CCA and not appealed to CAAF), the appellant was not prejudiced because the panel for his court-martial was fair in fact and in appearance. Finding the error harmless, CAAF affirms the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA and the appellant’s convictions.

Judge Erdmann writes for a unanimous court.

The appellant was an E-2 who was convicted, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of fleeing apprehension, rape, and communicating a threat, in violation of Articles 95, 120, and 134. He was sentenced to confinement for 933 days and a dishonorable discharge.

Prior to the appellant’s court-martial, the convening authority (Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT)) issued an instruction that required subordinate units to nominate personnel to serve on courts-martial, specifically requiring nominations in pay-grades E-7 through O-5. No members detailed to the court-martial were outside the range of E-7 through O-5. Rather, the panel “was comprised of one 0-4, one E-8, and 6 E-7s.” Slip op. at 5.

Congress established the criteria for member selection in Article 25 (10 U.S.C. § 825). Rank is not among those criteria. However, the appellant did not object to the composition of the panel at trial. Rather, after trial, when his defense counsel first learned of the convening authority’s exclusionary instruction, the appellant sought relief from the convening authority. The convening authority denied relief. On appeal, the CCA concluded that the convening authority’s actions did impermissibly exclude members based on their rank, but that this error was harmless. CAAF then granted review of Appellant’s claim that the CCA erred in finding the error harmless, with the following issue:

The convening authority issued an instruction that limited court-martial member nominations to personnel only in the pay grades between E-7 and O-5. The lower court found this systematic exclusion of personnel to be error, but harmless. Should this court set aside appellant’s convictions based on the rationale of United States v. Kirkland due to the unresolved appearance of unfairness?

Notably, the Government did not certify the CCA’s underlying finding of error, and so “the sole issue before [CAAF] is whether the violation of Article 25, UCMJ, as held by the CCA, prejudiced Ward.” Slip op. at 6.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Carter, __ M.J. __, No. 14-0792/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Finding that there is no per se rule against an accused presenting evidence of unlawful pretrial punishment as mitigation evidence during the sentencing phase of a court-martial – even after the accused receives judicial credit for the same unlawful punishment – CAAF nevertheless holds that the military judge did not abuse her discretion when she prevented the appellant from introducing such evidence to the members in this case.

Chief Judge Baker writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Stucky who writes separately, concurring in the result.

The appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of one specification of indecent act in violation of Article 120(k) (2006). He was sentenced to confinement for six months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The Army CCA summarily affirmed.

Article 13, UCMJ, prohibits the imposition of punishment before trial. At trial, the appellant and the Government agreed that the appellant should receive 25 days of confinement credit for pretrial restriction that constituted unlawful pretrial punishment in violation of Article 13 (the appellant initially sought 45 days of credit). Then, during the sentencing phase of the court-martial, the appellant sought to call a witness “to testify about the pretrial violations” as a matter in mitigation possibly justifying a lesser adjudged sentence. Slip op. at 4. The trial counsel objected on relevance grounds and the military judge sustained the objection. The judge “specifically based her decision on existing case law discussing [Article 15] nonjudicial punishment which, according to the military judge, is analogous to [Article 13] and should be interpreted to mean that defense counsel ‘has an option as to how to present that evidence; one of four ways.'” Slip op. at 4-5.

CAAF granted review to determine whether that ruling was error, with the following issue:

Whether the military judge abused her discretion by preventing defense counsel from presenting facts of appellant’s unlawful pretrial punishment as mitigation evidence at sentencing.

Chief Judge Baker finds that Article 13 “is distinct from NJP credit and should not be treated in the same way.” Slip op. at 9. He further finds that allowing an accused to receive credit from a judge for a violation of Article 13 while also using the underlying facts as evidence in mitigation “does not provide defense counsel two bites at the apple.” Slip op. at 12 (emphasis added). However, he comes to the puzzling conclusion that the military judge in this case did not abuse her discretion when she held the opposite: that allowing the defense to call the witness “was giving defense counsel ‘two bites at the apple.'” Slip op. at 12-13.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Simmermacher, 74 M.J. 196, No. 14-0744/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, June 8, 2015. Holding that the appellant’s urine sample was of such central importance that it was essential to a fair trial, that there was no adequate substitute for the sample after it was destroyed by the Government, and that the appellant was blameless in its destruction, CAAF applies R.C.M. 703(f)(2) and reverses the appellant’s conviction.

Judge Erdmann writes for a unanimous court.

The appellant was convicted contrary to her pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of making a false official statement and wrongful use of a controlled substance, in violation of Articles 107 and 112a, UCMJ. She was sentenced to reduction to E-3 and a bad-conduct discharge.

The appellant’s positive urinalysis was the result of a routine random testing that occurred while she was under investigation for allegations of child abuse (charges that were later severed from the 107 and 112a offenses). But despite that ongoing investigation, the Government did not preserve the urine sample for possible retesting beyond the standard one-year retention period for a positive sample. Instead, the sample was destroyed twelve days before the appellant was charged with the drug offense. The military judge then denied a defense motion to suppress the results of the urinalysis, instead giving the members an instruction that they may (but are not required to) infer that the evidence would have been adverse to the prosecution. Appellant was convicted and the NMCCA affirmed. CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

When the Government destroys evidence essential to a fair trial, the Rules for Courts-Martial require the military judge to abate the proceedings. Here, the Government negligently destroyed the sole piece of evidence that provided the basis for HM3 Simmermacher’s conviction prior to both the referral of charges and the assignment of defense counsel. Should the military judge have abated the proceedings?

Drawing a bright line between the constitutional due process standard for lost or destroyed evidence and the provisions of R.C.M. 703(f)(2), Judge Erdmann explains that where the three prerequisites under R.C.M. 703(f)(2) are satisfied, “if a continuance or other relief cannot produce the missing evidence, [then] the remaining remedy for a violation of R.C.M. 703(f)(2) is abatement of the proceedings.” Slip op. at 14. Because the military judge failed to abate the proceedings in this case, CAAF reverses the finding of guilty and dismisses the charge of violation of Article 112a.

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CAAF decided the certified interlocutory Army case of United States v. Muwwakkil, 74 M.J. 187, No. 15-0112/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, May 28, 2015. The court unanimously affirms the trial-stage ruling by a military judge that stuck the entire testimony of an alleged victim of sexual assault because the Government lost most of the recording of the alleged victim’s testimony during the Article 32 pretrial investigation. CAAF rejects both issues certified by the Judge Advocate General of the Army, affirming the decision of the Army CCA.

Judge Ohlson writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Stucky who concurs in the result but writes separately to distinguish the Jencks Act (18 U.S.C. § 3500) from Rule for Courts-Martial 914.

Production of pre-trial statements by a witness is required by the Jencks Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3500, and the corollary Rule for Courts-Marital (RCM) 914. In this case, the Government called the alleged victim to testify at trial, but then produced only part of the recording of her pretrial testimony. The majority of the recording was lost by the Government in what the military judge determined was not an intentional act but “was certainly negligent and may amount to gross negligence.” 73 M.J. 859, 861 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 26, 2014) (quoting record).

Specifically, of approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes of testimony by the alleged victim at the Article 32 pretrial investigation, only approximately 52 minutes was preserved. 73 M.J. at 861. Considering this, the military judge concluded that “the defense counsel does not have what he needs to adequately prepare for cross-examination of [the alleged victim],” and the judge felt that the only adequate remedy was to strike the entire testimony of the alleged victim. Id.

The Government promptly appealed under Article 62. The Army CCA denied that appeal and affirmed the judge’s ruling. The Judge Advocate General of the Army then certified two issues to CAAF:

I. Whether the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred in its application of both the federal Jencks Act (18 U.S.C. § 3500) and Rule for Courts-Martial 914.

II. Whether the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred in its deference to the military judge’s findings and conclusions, as she failed to consider the totality of the case, and instead made a presumption of harm before ordering an extraordinary remedy. See, e.g., Killian v. United Utates, 368 U.S. 231 (1961).

Rejecting the Government’s appeal and affirming the decision of the Army CCA, Judge Ohlson unravels the Government’s various arguments – that federal Jencks Act precedent doesn’t apply to courts-martial, that this is actually a discovery issue, that the accused should have litigated this issue pretrial rather than waiting until after the alleged victim testified, that the recording of the alleged victim’s testimony during the Article 32 pretrial investigation is not a statement, that the Government can not be required to produce something that is lost, and that the judge was required to find that the Government acted in bad faith prior to imposing the remedy of striking the testimony of the alleged victim – and CAAF concludes that the “military judge did not err or otherwise abuse her discretion in applying the provisions of the Jencks Act and R.C.M. 914 to the instant case.” Slip op. at 18.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Castillo, 74 M.J. 160, No. 14-0724/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, May 18, 2015. The court rejects Appellant’s two-fold challenge the Navy’s current requirement that its members self-report to military authority any arrest or initiation of criminal charges by civilian authorities. Finding that the Navy created the requirement in direct response to CAAF’s decision in United States v. Serianne, 69 M.J. 8 (C.A.A.F. 2010), and rejecting Appellant’s hypothetical applications as insufficient to sustain a facial challenge to the regulation, CAAF confirms the validity of the requirement, affirming the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA.

Chief Judge Baker writes for a unanimous court.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether the lower court improperly determined that [the] duty to self-report one’s own criminal arrests found in Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 3120.32c was valid despite the instruction’s obvious conflict with superior authority and the Fifth Amendment.

The Navy has long required that its members report offenses punishable under the UCMJ. See Article 1137, U. S. Navy Regulations; United States v. Tyson, 2 M.J. 583 (N.C.M.R. 1976) (discussing predecessor Article 1139); United States v. Bland, 39 M.J. 921 (N.M.C.M.R. 1994) (discussing both). The Navy has also enforced various requirements that members report matters related to their own potential misconduct. But the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals invalidated one such requirement in United States v. Serianne, finding that an order for Navy personnel to self-report alcohol-related arrests by civil authorities compelled an incriminatory testimonial communication in violation of the Fifth Amendment and contrary to the then-existing language of Article 1137, U.S. Navy Regulations, and CAAF affirmed on the basis of Article 1137 without reaching the constitutional issue. 68 M.J. 580 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. 2009),aff’d, 69 M.J. 8 (C.A.A.F. 2010).

After Serianne, the Navy revised Article 1137 to explicitly authorize regulations that “require servicemembers to report civilian arrests or filing of criminal charges if those regulations or instructions serve a regulatory or administrative purpose.” ¶ 2.3, ALNAV 049/10 (Jul. 21, 2010). Other regulations followed, including a change to the Navy’s Standard Organization and Regulations Manual to include the following self-reporting requirement:

Any person arrested or criminally charged by civil authorities shall immediately advise their immediate commander of the fact that they were arrested or charged.

¶ 4.c, NAVADMIN 373/11 (Dec. 8, 2011) (amending ¶ 510.6, OPNAVINST 3120.32C (2005), superseded by ¶ 5.1.6, 3120.32D (Jul. 16, 2012)) (available here).

Appellant ran afoul of this new requirement:

In February 2012, Appellant was arrested in Kitsap County, Washington for driving under the influence.3 She did not report the arrest to her command. Her command learned of the arrest during an unrelated visit to the local courthouse, during which one of her supervisors noticed her name on the court’s docket. She was subsequently charged with violating a lawful order, to wit, wrongfully failing to report the arrest, in violation of Article 92, UCMJ.

Slip op. at 7. Appellant challenged the legality of the requirement at trial and again on appeal at the NMCCA, asserting that the arrested-or-charged reporting requirement conflicts with Article 1137, U.S. Navy Regulations (superior regulatory authority), and that it violates the Fifth Amendment. Both arguments failed at trial and at the NMCCA, and now they fail at CAAF.

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CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Torres, 74 M.J. 154 No. 14-0222/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. The court unanimously finds that the military judge erred in instructing the members on the defense of lack of mental responsibility when Appellant asserted the defense of automatism in that that his act of choking his wife with his hands was involuntary because he had suffered a seizure. However, the court splits 3-2 to find this error harmless, affirming the findings, sentence, and the decision of the Air Force CCA.

Judge Ohlson writes for the majority, joined by Chief Judge Baker and Judge Ryan. Judge Stucky dissents, joined by Judge Erdmann.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred by denying the defense requested instruction.

Appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of officer members, of one specification of aggravated assault and three specifications of assault consummated by a battery, in violation of Article 128. He was sentenced to confinement for six months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge.

The aggravated assault specification alleged that Appellant assaulted his wife by “choking her throat with his hands with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” Slip op. at 2. Appellant’s defense was that he suffered a seizure and his actions were involuntary. Specifically:

Appellant sought to show that he had an epileptic seizure on the morning of May 13, 2008, and that he thus was experiencing an altered state of consciousness when he assaulted his wife. Appellant further asserted that this altered state of consciousness rendered his actions involuntary, and argued that the Government had therefore failed to prove that his conduct “was done with unlawful force or violence” as required for aggravated assault.

Slip op. at 4 (emphasis in original) (citation omitted). Appellant’s defense counsel also asked the military judge to instruct the members that they must be “satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused, at the time of the alleged offense acted voluntarily” in order to convict him. Slip op. at 5 (quoting record).

However, the military judge refused to give the instruction requested by the defense. Rather, the military judge instructed the panel consistent with the affirmative defense of lack of mental responsibility, and “consistent with this affirmative defense, the military judge further instructed the panel that if it concluded that the Government had proved all of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden then shifted to the defense to show by clear and convincing evidence that the accused suffered from a severe mental disease or defect, making him unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his conduct.” Slip op. at 5.

CAAF holds that the military judge erred in giving this instruction, though it acknowledges that military law is not exactly clear on how to handle a defense of automatism:

Thus, as noted above, at the time of trial in the instant case, the state of the law was not particularly clear in regard to whether automatism should be viewed as potentially negating an accused’s mens rea, or potentially negating the actus reus, or both. What was clear, however, was that neither epilepsy nor automatism constituted a mental disease or defect and this Court has never held that the affirmative defense of lack of mental responsibility applies in these cases. Indeed, we find it was error for the military judge in the instant case to instruct the panel in that manner.

Slip op. at 7-8 (emphasis in original).

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CAAF decided the Marine Corps case of United States v. Norman, 74 M.J. 144, No. 14-0524/MC (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The court finds that the military judge erred in admitting lay opinion testimony about the service discrediting nature of Appellant’s alleged child endangerment by culpable negligence, but that Appellant’s conviction is nevertheless legally sufficient because of other evidence in the record that may have been considered by the members, even though the trial counsel didn’t argue it. The court affirms the opinion of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA that affirmed the findings and sentence.

Chief Judge Baker writes for a unanimous court.

CAAF granted review of one issue:

Whether the conviction for child endangerment by culpable negligence is legally insufficient when the only testimony offered to prove its service discrediting nature was admitted in error.

Appellant – a sergeant in the Marines – was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of a single specification of child endangerment by culpable negligence in violation of Article 134, charged as service discrediting conduct. In the same trial Appellant was acquitted of four specifications of aggravated assault in violation of Article 128, UCMJ, and four additional specifications of child endangerment by design and/or by culpable negligence in violation of Article 134. The members sentenced Appellant to confinement for sixty days, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

The sole conviction for child endangerment related to burns suffered by Appellant’s infant child while Appellant was giving the child a bath. The child suffered second and third-degree burns, and “was treated for fifty days at the Maricopa Burn Center, undergoing seven surgeries to excise his burnt skin and receive skin grafts for his third-degree burns.” Slip op. at 5-6. There were no witnesses to the incident, but Appellant made statements to law enforcement in which he first stated that he ran the water at “full cold,” and then subsequently stated that he “turned the handle of the faucet to approximately the 9:00 position” and left the child in the water for 30-45 seconds. Slip op. at 4-5 (marks omitted). Yet investigation revealed that with the faucet at the 9 o’clock position, the water temperature in Appellant’s bathroom was only 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and an expert testified that at that temperature “clearly exposure is going to need to last much more than ten minutes in order to produce a third-degree burn in an adult.” Slip op. at 20 (marks omitted).

As charged in this case, the offense of child endangerment by culpable negligence has four elements:

  1. That the accused had a duty for the care of a certain child;
  2. That the child was under the age of 16 years;
  3. That the accused endangered the child’s mental or physical health, safety, or welfare through design or culpable negligence; and
  4. That, under the circumstances, the conduct of the accused was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

Manual for Courts-Martial, United States, pt. IV, ¶ 68a (2012). To prove the element that the conduct was of a servicing discrediting nature, the Government presented the lay testimony of a Marine staff sergeant (and military policeman) to opine on “whether Appellant’s conduct was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Slip op. at 6. The defense objected to the testimony but the military judge permitted it.

CAAF finds that the military judge abused his discretion in permitting the testimony of the staff sergeant. Nevertheless, CAAF affirms Appellant’s conviction by concluding that “a rational trier of fact could have instead determined that Appellant turned the faucet handle to the hottest setting and then left his child unattended for 30 to 45 seconds.” Slip op. at 22. The court reaches this conclusion despite the fact that “trial counsel made no mention of the terminal element during closing arguments, omitting any mention of [the staff sergeant’s] testimony or any other evidence supporting this element, leaving this Court to evaluate each piece of evidence post hoc, on the basis of a cold record.” Slip op. at 22 n.5.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Adams, 74 M.J. 137, 14-0495/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, April 27, 2015. The court reverses Appellant’s conviction for larceny after concluding that Appellant’s confession, which was “the government’s key piece of evidence,” was improperly admitted because “virtually none of the facts we have previously articulated as essential were corroborated.” Slip op. at 11 (quoting the CCA’s opinion). CAAF reverses the decision of the Army CCA and the findings and sentence, and authorizes a rehearing.

Judge Erdmann writes for the court, joined by Judges Stucky and Ohlson. Chief Judge Baker dissents, joined by Judge Ryan.

CAAF granted review of a single issue in this case:

Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred in finding that the military judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting the portion of Appellant’s sworn statement regarding the [theft] of cocaine because the Government failed to corroborate, in accordance with Military Rule of Evidence 304(g), the essential fact that appellant took cocaine.

Appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of one specification of larceny in violation of Article 121 (as a lesser included offense of the charged offense of robbery in violation of Article 122). He was sentenced to confinement for 165 days, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge.

Appellant’s conviction was based on an alleged armed robbery of cocaine from a local drug dealer. Acting on a tip from another soldier identified as an accomplice in the theft (but who did not testify at trial because he was in an unauthorized absence status), Army investigators interrogated Appellant, and Appellant  gave a written statement in which he admitted to stealing cocaine from the drug dealer, using a S&W handgun, near a local WalMart.

The statement given by Appellant was admitted at trial over a Defense objection on corroboration grounds. The corroboration rule – M.R.E. 304(g) (2012) (relocated to M.R.E. 304(c) (2013)) – permits use of an admission or confession of the accused against the accused “only if independent evidence, either direct or circumstantial, has been introduced that corroborates the essential facts admitted to justify sufficiently an inference of their truth.” Additionally,

If the independent evidence raises an inference of the truth of some but not all of the essential facts admitted, then the confession or admission may be considered as evidence against the accused only with respect to those essential facts stated in the confession or admission that are corroborated by the independent evidence.

M.R.E. 304(g) (2012) (relocated to M.R.E. (c)(2) (2013)). In this case the Government did not present corroborating testimony from Appellant’s accomplice or from the victim. Rather, the Government presented the testimony of Army investigators. That testimony directly corroborated the existence of a suspected drug dealer matching Appellant’s description of his alleged victim (who was known to the investigators), the existence of the handgun (as seized from Appellant’s home), and the existence of a local WalMart fitting Appellant’s description of the location of the alleged larceny. However, the testimony did not directly corroborate the existence of any cocaine, the object of the alleged larceny.

Nevertheless, the military judge ruled that much of Appellant’s confession was admissible based on the following corroboration:

The description of the handgun the accused admitted to “waiving [sic] around quick” is a “S&W .40 cal.” This matches the description of [the weapon found in the search]. . . . [T]he Court finds that these items found in the accused’s home four days after the alleged crimes coupled with the testimony regarding the location of a Walmart and Microtel in Evans Mills, New York to be sufficient to meet the standard of the slight corroboration required by the rule and case law.

Slip op. at 6. On review, the Army CCA found that the military judge did not abuse his discretion in making that ruling, and the CCA affirmed the findings and sentence. CAAF then granted review in Adams and in another case also presenting a corroboration issue: United States v. Bennett, No. 14-0658/AR (grant discussed here).

Today’s ruling doesn’t just reverse the Army CCA; it also breathes new life into the corroboration rule.

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CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Olson, 74 M.J. 132, No. 14-0166/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The court holds that the military judge did not err in concluding that Appellant’s consent to a search of her home was voluntary, affirming the decision of the Air Force CCA.

Judge Stucky writes for a functionally-unanimous the court. Chief Judge Baker writes separately, concurring.

CAAF granted review to determine:

Whether the military judge erred by denying the Defense’s motion to suppress the evidence seized from Appellant’s house because the totality of the circumstances indicated that Appellant’s consent to search was involuntary.

In August 2011, Appellant’s military supervisor contacted Air Force investigators with suspicions related to Appellant’s civilian husband, who was allegedly involved in illegal drug activity. Appellant was sent to meet with Air Force investigators in a conference room and Appellant was not advised of her Article 31(b) right to remain silent. Then:

The agents advised Appellant that her husband was suspected of distributing illegal drugs on base and that he had been arrested by Calvert County, Maryland, police. The agents asked for consent to search her residence, which she was reluctant to give. Appellant wanted to telephone her husband but was dissuaded from doing so by the agents. At the time, Appellant resided off base with her husband in Maryland, although he had been absent from the house since July. During a smoke break outside the building, an agent tried to convince her to consent to the search. Appellant understood that the agents could try to convince her to consent, and she worried that they were trying to get her in trouble.

Slip op. at 4. Eventually she consented, and drugs and drug paraphernalia were discovered in the residence. She was later convicted contrary to her pleas of not guilty, by a special court-martial composed of officer members, of dereliction of duty, spoilage of personal property, wrongful possession of ketamine, and larceny, in violation of Articles 92, 109, 112a, and 121. She was sentenced to confinement for four months, forfeiture of $978.00 pay per month for 4 months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The convening authority disapproved one month of the adjudged forfeitures but otherwise approved the adjudged sentence.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Bennitt, 74 M.J. 125, No. 12-0616/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The court holds that the Army CCA erred in approving Appellant’s sentence, because the CCA made a finding based on a theory not presented at trial. CAAF reverses the decision of the Army court and remands the case for further action.

Judge Ryan write for the court. She is joined by all but Chief Judge Baker, who dissents.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals abused its discretion by reaffirming appellant’s approved sentence after this court set aside his conviction for manslaughter.

This is CAAF’s second opinion in this case. Previously, in a 2013 decision (CAAFlog case page), CAAF reversed Appellant’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter for his distribution of prescription opioid painkillers to his 16 year-old girlfriend (“LK”), who overdosed and died in Appellant’s barracks room in 2009. Yet Appellant also pleaded guilty to four specifications each of wrongful use and wrongful distribution of a controlled substance in violation of Article 112a, and CAAF remanded the case for reassessment of the sentence based on just those offenses. Despite the fact that Appellant was no longer convicted of manslaughter, the CCA affirmed the entire adjudged sentence (confinement for 70 months, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge) in two opinions:

The CCA explained that “[a]lthough appellant now stands acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, pursuant to Rule for CourtsMartial [sic] 1001(b)(4), LK’s death was directly related to appellant’s conviction for oxymorphone distribution. Therefore, the evidence underlying the dismissed charge was proper aggravation evidence . . . .” Bennitt II, 2013 CCA LEXIS 838, at *3-4, 2013 WL 5588229, at *1.

On a motion for reconsideration in light of United States v. Winckelmann, 73 M.J. 11 (C.A.A.F. 2013), the CCA again reassessed, and did not change, Appellant’s sentence. United States v. Bennitt (Bennitt III), No. ACM 20100172, 2014 CCA LEXIS 188, at *11, 2014 WL 1246764, at *3 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 25, 2014) (unpublished). The CCA’s reasoning did change, however. The CCA concluded that evidence of LK’s death was admissible aggravation evidence because Appellant’s Article 112a, UCMJ, conviction of oxymorphone distribution on divers occasions on or about February 14, 2009, included distribution of the drug to LK. Bennitt III, 2014 CCA LEXIS 188, at *9-10, 2014 WL 1246764, at *3.

Slip op. at 2-3 (marks in original). Yet Judge Ryan finds fault with the CCA’s revised reasoning, concluding that “the CCA erred as a matter of law in its second reassessment when it stated that Appellant was convicted of distribution of oxymorphone to LK as part of his Article 112a, UCMJ, conviction.” Slip op. at 4. This was error because:

The CCA’s finding was based on “a theory not presented to the trier of fact.”

Slip op. at 9.

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CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Piolunek, 74 M.J. 107, No.s 14-5006/AF & 14-0283/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, March 26, 2015. The court sets aside its own recent decision in United States v. Barberi, 71 M.J. 127 (C.A.A.F. 2012) (CAAFlog case page), with the frank acknowledgement of: “We erred.” Slip op. at 4. CAAF draws a line between a case where members might have convicted an appellant on the basis of an unconstitutional statute or legal theory, and one where the conviction involves only a factual deficiency, and the court affirms Appellant’s child pornography convictions and the decision of the Air Force CCA.

Judge Ryan writes for the court joined by all but Judge Erdmann. He writes separately, dissenting in part but concurring in the result.

CAAF considered two issues in this case (one granted, the other certified), though it summarily rejected the certified issue as presenting a question of fact that the court lacks jurisdiction to consider:

Granted Issue: Whether appellant’s convictions for possession and receipt of child pornography on divers occasions must be set aside because several images offered in support of the specifications are not child pornography and are constitutionally protected, a general verdict was entered, and it is impossible to determine whether said images contributed to the verdict.

Certified Issue: Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals erred in finding that images 8308, 8313, and 0870 did not constitute visual depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct as a matter of law.

Appellant was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of one specification of wrongful receipt of child pornography, one specification of wrongful possession of child pornography, one specification of enticing a minor child to send sexually explicit images, and one specification of communicating indecent language to a minor, all in violation of Article 134. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, confinement for 18 months, and a dishonorable discharge.

Appellant’s convictions were related to his online communications with the teenage sister of a friend, during which he received sexually explicit images of the girl when she was 14 and 15 years old. He was charged with receipt and possession of child pornography in connection with those images, the Government admitted 22 images into evidence at trial, and Appellant was convicted. However, on review the Air Force CCA found that three of the 22 images did not meet the definition of child pornography at issue in the case. Specifically, in a published decision, the CCA noted that “while [the girl] is naked in each of the images, none of these three images contain an exhibition of her genitals or pubic area.” United States v. Piolunek, 72 M.J. 830, 838 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2013).

Because it found that the three images did not meet the definition of contraband child pornography, the CCA concluded that Appellant’s possession of them was constitutionally protected conduct and that a conviction that might be based on that conduct is erroneous. But the CCA affirmed Appellant convictions after concluding that it had “no doubt that the 3 images in question did not materially contribute to the finding of guilt because of the evidence relating to the other 19 images.” Id. at 839. This finding of harmlessness seemed to present a direct challenge to CAAF’s decision in Barberi – also a child pornography case – where Judge Erdmann wrote for the majority and explained that:

An error in admitting plainly relevant evidence which possibly influenced the jury adversely to a litigant cannot be conceived of as harmless.

Barberi, 71 M.J. at 132 (marks and citation omitted). Now the lone dissenting voice in Piolunek, Judge Erdmann tries to salvage something of the reasoning from Barberi by highlighting that CAAF “recognized that this type of constitutional error is reviewable for harmlessness.” Piolunek, diss. op. at 9. See also Barberi, 71 M.J. at 132 (rejecting Barberi’s urging “to set aside the verdict without testing for prejudice.”). But Judge Ryan leads the majority in Piolunek to craft a decision that supersedes Barberi in its entirety, holding that the admission of the three factually deficient images was not constitutional error at all.

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