Opinion Analysis: Wrongful sexual contact is not a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact, but the error was harmless in United States v. Oliver, No. 16-0484/AF (corrected)
CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Oliver, 76 M.J. 271, No. 16-0484/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Finding forfeiture (and not waiver) in the absence of objection to the military judge considering wrongful sexual contact as a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact, CAAF concludes that wrongful sexual contact is not a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact but the conviction may stand nevertheless because there was no prejudice to the defense in this case. CAAF affirms the finding of guilty and the decision of the Air Force CCA.
Judge Sparks writes for the court joined by all by Judge Stucky, who concurs in the result but would have found the error was waived.
Senior Airman Oliver was tried on numerous charges by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone. One charge alleged abusive sexual contact by placing in fear in violation of Article 120(h) (2006) in that Oliver – who was at the time a Staff Sergeant assigned as a training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base – groped a female trainee “by placing her in fear of an impact on her military career through the use and abuse of [his] military rank, position, and authority.” Slip op. at 2 (quoting charge sheet). Oliver’s defense was that the touching occurred but was consensual.
The military judge acquitted Oliver of abusive sexual contact by placing in fear and instead convicted him of wrongful sexual contact, which occurs when:
Any person subject to this chapter who, without legal justification or lawful authorization, engages in sexual contact with another person without that other person’s permission. . .
Article 120(m) (2006). The military judge notified both sides that he was going to consider this potential lesser included offense in his deliberations and Oliver’s defense counsel did not object. CAAF granted review to determine:
Whether wrongful sexual contact was a lesser-included offense of abusive sexual contact.
In yesterday’s opinion, Judge Sparks grapples with the defense failure to object but ultimately applies last term’s decision in United States v. Riggins, 75 M.J. 78 (C.A.A.F. Jan. 7, 2016) (CAAFlog case page), to hold that wrongful sexual contact is not a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact. However, because Oliver’s “theory throughout the court-martial was that [the alleged victim] consented to the sexual activity. . . there is nothing to indicate material prejudice to Appellant’s substantial rights” to notice, and so the conviction is affirmed. Slip op. at 7.