CAAFlog » October 2016 Term

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Swift, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0407/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Considering “the Government’s surprising assertion that the ACCA’s Article 66(c), UCMJ, review is defensible here,” CAAF finds that the CCA improperly based its review “solely by reference to uncharged conduct.” Slip op. at 11 (emphasis in original). Accordingly, CAAF remands the case for a new Article 66(c) review by the CCA. But the court also finds that any error in the admission of an uncorroborated confession was waived by both the failure to object and an affirmative statement that the defense had no objection.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

CAAF granted review of three issues:

I. Whether the Army court denied appellant his substantial right to an Article 66(c) review by affirming the findings and sentence on uncharged misconduct presented at trial rather than the charged offenses.

II. Whether the military judge erred by admitting appellant’s pretrial statement where there was no independent evidence to corroborate the essential facts admitted.

[specified issue] III. Whether the evidence of the two convictions of indecent acts with a child is legally sufficient.

Specialist (E-4) Swift was twice convicted of two specifications of indecent acts with a child in violation of Article 134. The first conviction was reversed on appeal in 2012 because the Government failed to allege a terminal element (noted here). At a rehearing before a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, Swift was again convicted and he was sentenced to confinement for 11 years, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

The charges against Swift alleged that he committed indecent acts with his daughter on two occasions: the first in 2003 and the second in 2007. Swift admitted to touchings during the charged time periods, but he asserted that both were inadvertent. The charges were based on Swift’s admissions, and alleged acts that Judge Ryan refers to as the “Hawaii Bedside Incident” and the “Texas ‘Old Flame’ Incident.” Slip op. at 3. But the prosecution also offered evidence of three other alleged (but uncharged) incidents under Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) and 414: the “Couch ‘Peeing’ Incident,” the “Hawaii Van Indicent,” and the “Texas Pool Incident.” Slip op. at 4-5. The military judge allowed this evidence “without ever actually ruling on whether [it was] admissible under M.R.E. 404(b) or 414.” Slip op. at 8.

On appeal, the Army CCA also “did not rule on whether the incidents of uncharged conduct were admissible under either M.R.E. 404(b) or 414. Instead, the ACCA facially treated them as if they were the charged conduct, concluded the findings of guilty were legally and factually sufficient, and affirmed.” Slip op. at 10. The CCA’s decision “affirmed the findings and sentence, albeit solely by reference to evidence of uncharged misconduct.” Slip op. at 9.

That, explains Judge Ryan, was wrong.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Haverty, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0423/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Considering a single issue that was specified by the court itself, and applying the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Elonis v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2001 (2015), CAAF finds that recklessness is the minimum mens rea (mental state) to sustain a conviction of hazing in violation of Army Regulation 200-20 paragraph 4-20. The court reverses the appellant’s conviction of violation of Article 92 for requiring the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol as an initiation rite of passage.

Judge Ohlson writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Stucky who concurs with the majority’s conclusion on the mens rea issue but dissents from the majority’s finding of prejudice.

Sergeant (E-5) Haverty was convicted of numerous offenses by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation. One offense was violation of Article 92 for hazing by “wrongfully requiring [SPC BB] to consume alcohol.” Slip op. at 5 (quoting instructions). The alcohol consumption occurred while Haverty helped the other soldier prepare for a field exercise, and the order allegedly violated included a sweeping prohibition against conduct that “unnecessarily causes another military member or employee, regardless of Service or rank, to suffer or be exposed to an activity that is cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful.” Slip op. at 4 (quoting AR 600-20). That language, incidentally, was changed in 2014 and now requires that the conduct be committed “recklessly or intentionally.” AR 600-20 ¶ 4-19.a(1) (available here); a change that incorporates the standard announced in today’s opinion.

But for Haverty the military judge did not instruct the members on any necessary mens rea to violate the hazing order, and the members returned a finding of guilty. The Army CCA considered numerous issues on appeal but did not address the mens rea required to violate this order. CAAF then specified a single issue questioning the adequacy of the judge’s instructions:

Whether the military judge committed plain error when he failed to instruct the panel on the mens rea required for an Article 92, UCMJ, violation of Army Regulation 600-20, which prohibits requiring the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol as an initiation rite of passage.

Today’s decision is Judge Ohlson’s fourth opinion of the court on mens rea issued since March of last year. The first was United States v. Gifford, 75 M.J. 140 (C.A.A.F. Mar. 8, 2016) (CAAFlog case page), which held that an accused must have acted with at least reckless disregard for the true age of a person to whom he provided alcohol in order to be convicted of violating the order prohibiting providing alcohol to an underage person. The second was United States v. Rapert, 75 M.J. 164 (C.A.A.F. Mar. 18, 2016) (CAAFlog case page), which held that the element of wrongfulness in the Article 134 offense of communicating a threat, as specified by the President, requires proof of an accused’s mens rea. The third was United States v. Caldwell, 75 M.J. 276 (C.A.A.F. May 16, 2016), cert denied, __ S. Ct. __ (Oct. 3, 2016) (CAAFlog case page), which held that there is no scenario where an accused could innocently engage in the kind of conduct prohibited by the general intent military offense of maltreatment.

Yet today’s decision doesn’t begin where those decision ended, but rather starts from basic principles to conclude that violation of a hazing order requires at least that the accused acted recklessly; the same requirement that was added to the order in 2014.

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Audio of today’s oral arguments at CAAF is available at the following links:

United States v. Ramos,  No. 17-0143/CG (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Brantley, No.17-0055/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Forrester, No. 17-0049/MC (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Marine Corps case of United States v. Forrester, No. 17-0049/MC (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, after the argument in Brantley. The case is the most direct review of the concept of unreasonable multiplication of charges since CAAF’s decision in United States v. Campbell, 71 M.J. 19 (C.A.A.F. 2012) (CAAFlog case page) (clarifying the difference between multiplicity and unreasonable multiplication of charges, and recognizing that charges may be unreasonably multiplied for sentencing alone).

Corporal (E-4) Forrester was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of six specifications of wrongful possession of child pornography in violation of Article 134. Forrester was acquitted of five additional specifications of the same offense. He was sentenced to confinement for 40 months, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority approved the sentence.

The eleven total specifications were charged as just seven specifications, but the military judge split four of those specifications into two each (apparently to avoid specifications that alleged conduct both before and after the effective date of Executive Order 13593). Then, “after findings, the judge merged two of the specifications back into the original two, resulting in convictions for a total of four specifications.” App. Br. at 2. Those four convictions all involved possession of the same 23 images of child pornography on four separate devices: three computer drives and an email account. Forrester asserts that his four convictions for possession of the same contraband images on four different mediums constitutes an unreasonable multiplication of charges.

The NMCCA rejected Forrester’s unreasonable multiplication claim, concluding that “the government was able to prove that the appellant took separate steps on separate dates to copy the initial 23 images to the other media devices—and thus completed the necessary actus reus each time he re-copied the images.” United States v. Forrester, No. 201500295, slip op. at 4 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 30, 2016) (per curiam). CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

Whether punishing the same transaction of obtaining child pornography with four convictions unreasonably exaggerates Appellant’s criminality and triples his punitive exposure, constituting an unreasonable multiplication of charges.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Brantley, No.17-0055/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, after the argument in Ramos. A single issue questions the legal sufficiency of the evidence that an alleged victim was unaware of a sexual touching in a case where the prosecution’s argument focused on the alleged victim’s impairment:

Whether the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant knew or reasonably should have known that SR was “otherwise unaware” of sexual contact.

Private First Class (E-3) Brantley was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of one specification of abusive sexual contact in violation of Article 120(d) by touching the alleged victim’s breasts while she was otherwise unaware. The panel sentenced Brantley to confinement for 90-days, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The convening authority approved the findings and sentence and the Army CCA summarily affirmed.

Brantley’s conviction was of a statute that prohibits sexual touching of “another person when the person knows or reasonably should know that the other person is asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware that the sexual act is occurring.” Article 120(b)(2). In United States v. Sager, __ M.J. __ (C.A.A.F. Mar. 21, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF concluded that the statute’s enumeration of “asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware” creates three separate theories under which an accused may be convicted, and the court reversed a decision by the NMCCA that had held the language creates only a single theory of criminal liability based upon unawareness (the three enumerations being ways that a person may be unaware).

The prosecution of Brantley doesn’t seem to involve the kind of error committed by the NMCCA in Sager. Rather, Brantley’s brief focuses on the trial counsel’s argument to the members (apparently without objection or correction by the military judge) that Brantley was guilty because the alleged victim was merely impaired (by a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs); a condition that is fundamentally different from being unaware and alone likely too vague to form a basis for criminal liability.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Coast Guard case of United States v. Ramos, No. 17-0143/CG (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. The court will consider a single issue that questions whether military investigators were required to give an Article 31(b) warning before questioning the appellant about threats to his wife’s recreational marijuana business activities:

Whether Appellant was entitled to Article 31(b), UCMJ, warnings at any point during his interrogation by CGIS, and if so, whether he was prejudiced by the admission of any of his statements.

Boatswain’s Mate First Class (E-6) Ramos was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a special court-martial composed of officer members, of one specification of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, three specifications of making a false official statement, and one specification of wrongful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The panel sentenced Ramos to confinement for 90 days, reduction to E-3, and a bad-conduct discharge, and the convening authority approved the sentence as adjudged. The CCA disapproved two of the false official statement convictions (seemingly for factual insufficiency), but approved the sentence.

The case arose from an agreement between Ramos’ wife (a civilian) and a third-party (also a civilian) “to start a business for manufacturing marijuana under Washington State’s recreational marijuana law.” App. Br. at 2. Ramos attempted (or maybe not) to distance himself from the venture. However, while Washington State law permits (and regulates) the cultivation, sale, possession (and use) of marijuana, it is still illegal nationwide. See, for example, 21 U.S.C. § 844. It is also prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 10 U.S.C. § 912a. Accordingly, the Ramos marijuana business (like all such businesses) was unlawful.

The business failed. This caused a dispute between Ramos’ wife and her business partner. The partner threatened Ramos’ wife and also “contacted the Coast Guard Investigative Service [(CGIS)] to report that [Ramos] was involved in the marijuana business.” App. Br. at 3-4. Ramos separately informed his command about his wife’s activities and the threats, leading to Ramos being interviewed by the CGIS. Ramos made statements during that interview that were admitted against him during his court-martial. However, despite the Government’s knowledge about Ramos’ connection to an unlawful marijuana business, the CGIS agent did not provide Ramos with an Article 31(b) warning during the interview.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Ahern, __ M.J. __, No. 17-0032/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, April 20, 2017. The court finds that when the appellant’s civilian defense counsel (who is not named in the opinion) affirmatively stated that the defense had no objection to admission of appellant’s statements, that extinguished appellant’s right to complain on appeal about the admission of the statements.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) Ahern was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of officer members, of aggravated sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault, assault consummated by a battery, indecent acts with a child, and child endangerment in violation of Articles 120, 128, and 134. The members sentenced Ahern to confinement for 17 years and six months and to a dismissal. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and the sentence.

Ahern’s “convictions are all related to his sexual abuse of his stepdaughter.” Slip op. at 2. Pretext phone calls were conducted during the investigation of the offense, during which Ahern did not directly deny the allegations. He also did not deny the allegations in pretext text messages. The defense moved to admit the text messages while the prosecution moved to admit the phone calls, and the defense had no objection to admission of the phone calls:

[MJ]: Okay. Very well.
And if I believe according to the Court’s notes, those would be the government Motion in Limine to Admit the Pretext Telephone Calls, which has been marked as Appellate Exhibit VII. I received no defense response to that motion. Defense counsel, you are not contesting that motion.
Is that correct?

[CDC]: Correct, Your Honor.

(Brackets in original.) Later, the Government admitted the phone call into evidence, and the following exchange took place:

[ATC]: Your Honor, the government moves to admit Prosecution Exhibit 3 for identification into evidence.

MJ: Objections, defense?

[CDC]: No objections.

Slip op. at 3-4 (marks in original). Then, “during closing argument, trial counsel argued that [Ahern’s] failure to deny the accusations made in the text messages and phone calls was evidence of his guilt.” Slip op. at 4. The defense did not object, however on appeal Ahern asserted that the closing argument was prohibited by Mil. R. Evid. 304(a)(2). That Rule states:

Failure to deny an accusation of wrongdoing is not an admission of the truth of the accusation if at the time of the alleged failure the person was under investigation or was in confinement, arrest, or custody for the alleged wrongdoing.

The Army CCA made a first-impression interpretation of the Rule in a decision discussed here, and concluded that the Rule is triggered when an accused is aware of the investigation (determined by an objective test). CAAF then granted review to decide:

Whether the lower court erred when it held that the prohibition against using an admission by silence provided by Mil. R. Evid. 304(a)(2) is triggered only “when the accused is aware of” an investigation contrary to the plain language of the rule.

But in today’s opinion Judge Ryan doesn’t answer the granted issue because “Appellant’s affirmative statements that he had no objection to their admission also operate to extinguish his right to complain about their admission on appeal.” Slip op. at 9.

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While the court decided the case on February 9, 2017 (two days after hearing oral argument), CAAF issued its opinion in the Air Force case of United States v. Ortiz, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0671/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, April 17, 2017. Avoiding answering more than necessary to decide the case, CAAF finds no error in the participation of a Presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed judge of the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR), who is also an Air Force Colonel, on the CCA panel that reviewed the appellant’s case. Ortiz is a replacement for United States v. Dalmazzi, 76 M.J. 1 (C.A.A.F. Dec. 15, 2016) (CAAFlog case page), which raised similar issues, was resolved on mootness grounds, and is now the subject of a petition for certiorari (discussed here).

Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.

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CAAF decided the certified Air Force case of United States v. Fetrow, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0500/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, April 17, 2017. Reviewing the Air Force CCA’s determination of when evidence of uncharged alleged child molestation is admissible under Mil. R. Evid. 414, CAAF agrees with the CCA’s determination that such evidence must (1) constitute an offense under the UCMJ, federal law, or state law when the uncharged allegation occurred, and (2) be within the categories set forth in the version of M.R.E. 414(d)(2)(A)-(G) in effect at the time of trial. CAAF affirms the Air Force CCA’s decision that reversed child molestation convictions and a sentence that included confinement for 25 years.

Judge Sparks writes for a unanimous court.

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Audio of this week’s oral arguments before CAAF is available at the following links:

United States v. Mitchell, No. 17-0153/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Herrmann, No. 16-0599/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Herrmann, No. 16-0599/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, at 2:00 p.m., at the Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio. The court will review the legal sufficiency of the appellant’s conviction of reckless endangerment in violation of Article 134 for the pencil packing of parachutes, which is when a parachute is not properly packed or inspected but is fraudulently reported as being properly packed and inspected. It granted review of a single issue:

Whether the evidence is legally sufficient to find appellant committed reckless endangerment, which requires proof the conduct was likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.

Sergeant (E-5) Herrmann was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of willful dereliction in the performance of his duties in violation of Article 92, and of reckless endangerment in violation of Article 134. Herrmann was sentenced to confinement for 10 months, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a bad conduct discharge. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence in a published opinion. 75 M.J. 672.

The convictions were based on 14 parachutes that were pencil packed. Each of the parachutes had deficiencies deliberately introduced into their packing for training purposes, and Herrmann was the inspector responsible for ensuring that they were properly re-packed prior to being returned to service. The parachutes were, however, reserve type parachutes that would only be used if the jumper’s primary parachute failed somehow. None of the 14 parachutes was ever issued for a jump, nevertheless Herrmann was prosecuted for reckless endangerment based on the possibility of death that could have resulted had any been issued and then failed to work.

At trial Hermann’s defense focused on the speculative nature of any such harm, with his defense counsel arguing in closing that:

Everything they [the prosecutors] have produced is speculative, well, it could happen, but they have not produced any evidence that if those things failed – those deficiencies failed that this is a likely result.

App. Br. at 8. Hermann now takes that argument to CAAF.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Army case of United States v. Mitchell, No. 17-0153/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at at 12:30 p.m., at the Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, Indiana.

The case continues a prosecution appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling that suppressed the contents of Sergeant (E-5) Mitchell’s cell phone because military investigators continued to question him after he requested an attorney and that questioning led to Mitchell decrypting the device for the investigators. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the military judge’s suppression ruling, and the Judge Advocate General of the Army certified three issues to CAAF:

I. Whether the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause is violated when a suspect voluntarily unlocks his phone without giving his personal identification number to investigators.

II. Whether the Edwards rule is violated when investigators ask a suspect, who has requested counsel and returned to his place of duty, to unlock his phone incident to a valid search authorization.

III. Whether, assuming investigators violated appellant’s Fifth Amendment privilege or the Edwards rule, the military judge erred by suppressing the evidence.

Mitchell is charged with various offenses at a general court-martial. The bulk of the charges relate to allegations that Mitchell harassed his ex-wife. The search of Mitchell’s phone was based on a claim by his ex-wife that Mitchell contacted her using texting applications after he was issued a no-contact order. Mitchell was interrogated on this topic by military criminal investigators at a military police station where Mitchell invoked his right to counsel. Mitchell was then escorted back to his unit, but investigators immediately obtained a search authorization for the phone and Mitchell was brought to his company commander’s office where the investigators met him. There:

The investigators told Appellee [Mitchell] that they had a verbal search and seizure authorization for his electronic media. (JA 479). Appellee handed his iPhone 6 to the investigators. (JA 480). Investigator BT asked Appellee for his PIN, but Appellee refused to provide it. (JA 480). The military judge found as a fact that the investigators next said, ‘”[I]f you could unlock it, great, if you could help us out. But if you don’t, we’ll wait for a digital forensic expert to unlock it,’ or words to that effect.” (JA 480). Appellee refused to provide his PIN, but unlocked the phone and gave it back to the investigators. (JA 480).

Army App. Gov’t Div. Br. at 5. Mitchell’s brief, however, offers an additional fact:

According to SSG Vaughn, the investigators “badgered [SGT Mitchell]” multiple times until SGT Mitchell provided the passcode or unlocked his phone. (R. at 275).

App. Br. at 5.

The military judge concluded that the continued interrogation and Mitchell’s act of decrypting the phone violated Mitchell’s rights under the Fifth Amendment, and she applied Mil. R. Evid. 305(c)(2) to suppress the phone and its contents. The Army Appellate Government Division challenges that ruling and result with a broadside of complex and interwoven legal arguments that ultimately suggest that a suspect has no right to refuse to produce a decryption passcode. The Air Force Appellate Government Division supports the Army Division as amicus curiae. A pair of law professors also appear as amicus in support of the Government (by invitation of the court).

Mitchell responds to the various arguments advanced by the Government divisions, however his brief ultimately argues that the plain language of Mil. R. Evid. 305(c)(2) dictates the suppression of the phone in his case. That rule states:

(2) Fifth Amendment Right to Counsel. If a person suspected of an offense and subjected to custodial interrogation requests counsel, any statement made in the interrogation after such request, or evidence derived from the interrogation after such request, is inadmissible against the accused unless counsel was present for the interrogation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia support Mitchell as amicus curiae, arguing in part that “compelled decryption is inherently testimonial.” EFF Amicus Br. at 12. A law student (with professorial oversight) also appears as amicus for Mitchell.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Sager, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0418/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on  Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Reviewing the text of Article 120(b)(2), as incorporated by Article 120(d), CAAF concludes that the language “asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware” creates three separate theories under which an accused may be convicted. The court reverses the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA that found that the language creates only a single theory of criminal liability, and remands the case for further consideration.

Chief Judge Erdmann writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Stucky who dissents.

Aviation Ordnanceman Airman (E-3) Sager was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of one specification of abusive sexual contact in violation of Article 120(d) (2012). That statute criminalizes sexual contact in the same way that Article 120(b) criminalizes sexual acts. The Government charged Sager with two specifications, both related to a sexual encounter between Sager and his roommate. One specification alleged that the roommate was incapable of consenting due to intoxication, while the other alleged that the roommate was asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware. The members acquitted Sager outright of the specification implicating intoxication, but returned findings by exceptions to the specification implicating unawareness:

On appeal, Sager asserted that the specification was unconstitutionally vague because it failed to identify how the roommate was otherwise unaware, and also that the finding is factually and legally insufficient because the evidence indicated that the roommate was either asleep or unconscious. Sager’s argument was essentially that the statute’s enumeration of asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware creates three separate and distinct theories of criminal liability. The NMCCA, however, rejected this argument, concluding that:

asleep or unconscious are examples of how an individual may be “otherwise unaware” and are not alternate theories of criminal liability.

United States v. Sager, No. 201400356, slip op. at 7 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 29, 2015) (link to slip op.). From this conclusion the NMCCA then found that evidence of the roommate’s degree of intoxication or unconsciousness was relevant, and it affirmed the conviction. CAAF then granted review of two issues questioning both the meaning of the statute and the adequacy of the CCA’s review of the evidence:

I. In affirming the abusive sexual contact conviction, the lower court relied on facts of which the members acquitted appellant. Was this error?

II. Article 120(d), UCMJ, prohibits sexual contact on another person when that person is “asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware.” Despite these specific statutory terms, the lower court held that “asleep” and “unconscious” do not establish theories of criminal liability, but only the phrase “otherwise unaware” establishes criminal liability. Did the lower court err in its interpretation of Article 120(d), UCMJ?

In today’s opinion Chief Judge Erdmann and the majority answer the second issue in the affirmative, finding that the CCA erred in its statutory interpretation, but decline to answer the first issue, remanding it to the CCA for further review. Judge Stucky, however, would affirm the conviction.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Lopez, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0487/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday March 20, 2017. The court finds error and prejudice in the testimony of a witness that gave her opinion of the appellant’s guilt of the offense of indecent liberties with a child, and it reverses that conviction. But it finds the similar testimony of a second witness, whose testimony supported a conviction of rape, to be harmless.

Judge Stucky writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Sparks who concurs in part but dissents from the court’s reversal of the indecent liberties conviction.

A general court-martial composed of officer members convicted Sergeant (E-5) Lopez, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, of rape of his wife and of indecent liberties with a child by exposing his wife’s minor son to pornographic material, both in violation of Article 120 (2006). Lopez was sentenced to confinement for five years, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. The Army CCA summarily affirmed the findings and sentence. CAAF then granted review, specifying the following issue:

Whether the military judge erred by admitting the testimony of appellant’s wife, Mrs. CL, who testified that appellant’s apology to his stepson meant that appellant was “loosely admitting guilt” to criminal conduct, and by also admitting the testimony of Ms. NM, who testified that appellant “had probably raped” his wife because Mrs. CL had recently researched “spousal rape” on the internet.

Human lie detector testimony occurs when a witness gives “an opinion as to whether the [other] person was truthful in making a specific statement regarding a fact at issue in the case.” United States v. Knapp, 73 M.J. 33, 36 (C.A.A.F. 2014) (CAAFlog case page) (citation omitted). In this case, Judge Stucky’s opinion considers whether human lie detector testimony was improperly admitted in two parts: the first reviewing the testimony of NM (CL’s daughter) to which there was no defense objection at trial, and the second reviewing the testimony of CL to which the defense counsel did object.

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Audio of today’s oral arguments at CAAF is available at the following links:

United States v. Reese, No. 17-0028/CG (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Hendrix, No. 16-0731/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.