Opinion Analysis: Members have a duty to be candid, and the dishonesty of three members required a mistrial in United States v. Commisso, No. 16-0555/AR
CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Commisso, 76 M.J. 315, No. 16-0555/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.) on Monday, June 26, 2017. The court finds that the military judge abused his discretion when he denied a post-trial motion for a mistrial that was based on dishonest answers from three members during voir dire (the members concealed their participation in Sexual Assault Review Board (SARB) meetings where the case was discussed). CAAF reverses the findings and sentence and the decision of the Army CCA, and authorizes a rehearing.
Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.
Sergeant First Class (E-7) Commisso was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of officer members, of abusive sexual contact, indecent viewing, indecent recording, indecent broadcasting, violating a lawful general regulation, obstructing justice, and making a false official statement, in violation of Articles 120, 120c, 92, 134, and 107, UCMJ. He was sentenced to confinement for one year, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The Army CCA set aside the convictions of violating a lawful general regulation and making a false official statement, but otherwise affirmed the findings and the sentence. But the CCA did not discuss the issue that CAAF granted to review, which is:
Whether the military judge abused his discretion in denying the defense’s post-trial motion for a mistrial, thereby violating appellant’s right to have his case decided by a panel of fair and impartial members, because three panel members failed to disclose that they had prior knowledge of the case.
In today’s unanimous decision Judge Ryan excoriates the members – two Colonels and a Lieutenant Colonel, all identified by name – for their “lack of candor” (slip op. at 2 and 12) and their “dishonesty” (slip op. at 11) during voir dire, concluding that had they been honest then Commisso “would have had at least a valid basis for challenging one or more of the panel members for cause.” Slip op. at 11.