Opinion Analysis: Some prejudice (and some harmlessness) from human lie detector testimony in United States v. Lopez, No. 16-0487/AR
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.