In United States v. Mangahas, 77 M.J. 220 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 6, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), a unanimous CAAF upended precedent to hold that the offense of rape of an adult (without aggravating factors) is not constitutionally punishable by death, and so the statute of limitations for a court-martial prosecution for that offense (prior to amendments enacted in 2006) is just five years. Mangahas was charged with rape in 2015 based on allegations dating from 1997. He moved to dismiss on both due process (speedy trial) grounds and based on the statute of limitations (even though precedent was solidly against the statute of limitations challenge). The military judge agreed with the due process challenge and dismissed the charge, but the prosecution appealed and the Air Force CCA reversed the military judge. CAAF then granted review and reinstated the dismissal, but it did so by re-interpreting the applicable statute of limitations (CAAF did not decide the due process challenge).
A recent decision by the Air Force CCA applies Mangahas to reverse a rape conviction and dismiss the charge, even though the appellant did not object at trial. In United States v. Collins, __ M.J. __, No. 39296 (A.F. Cr. Crim. App. Jul 23, 2018) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the CCA explains:
Appellant contends that in light of Mangahas, the military judge committed plain error which requires this court to set aside the findings and sentence and to dismiss the charge and specification. We agree.
Under Mullins and Harcrow, we must apply the clear law at the time of appeal to cases that, like Appellant’s, are pending direct review. Mullins, 69 M.J. at 116. In light of Mangahas, the statute of limitations applicable to the charged offense of rape in violation of Article 120, UCMJ, committed on or about 25 August 2000 was five years. See Mangahas, 77 M.J. at 225. Therefore, the statute of limitations in Appellant’s case expired in August 2005, more than ten years before the charge and specification were preferred and delivered to the summary court-martial convening authority in March 2016. Accordingly, we must evaluate the events at trial in this light.
Slip op. at 6.
The case involves an allegation dating to 2000, when the alleged victim was attending initial accession training in the Air Force and Collins was one of her instructors. The alleged victim made the allegation in 2000, but she would not identify the assailant because “she did not want to ‘ruin a family.'” Slip op. at 3. The alleged victim specifically “denied that it had been one of her course instructors.” Slip op. at 3. Because she would not identify the assailant, military and civilian prosecutors ended their investigation, and the physical evidence was destroyed in 2012.
The alleged victim renewed her allegation in 2014, “this time identifying Appellant as having raped her at Sheppard AFB in 2000.” Slip op. at 3. A court-martial prosecution followed, and in 2017 Collins (then a Master Sergeant (E-7)) was convicted of a single specification of rape in violation of Article 120 and sentenced to confinement for 198 months, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.