CAAFlog » October 2016 Term » United States v. Swift

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

United States v. Swift, No. 16-0407/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Haverty, No. 16-0423/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Swift, No. 16-0407/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. The case presents three issues regarding the evidence of the appellant’s convictions of indecent acts with a child, the third of which was specified by the court:

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 had admitted to touchings during the charged time periods, but he asserted that both were inadvertent (the first because he thought he was touching his wife and the second because it occurred during a dream about a former girlfriend). Swift’s statement was admitted into evidence against him without objection from his defense counsel. The Government also offered evidence of additional touchings, seemingly (though perhaps not exclusively) as uncharged misconduct under Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) and 414. One of these other touchings occurred in a van.

But the parties don’t agree on whether the touching in the van was charged or uncharged misconduct.

Read more »

Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Many things aren’t hearsay (such as an out-of-court statement offered to show only its effect on the listener), and there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule that permit admission of a hearsay statement under various situations.

Two interesting grants from CAAF last week involve the hearsay rule.

First, in the Air Force case of United States v. Bowen, CAAF specified an issue involving a statement admitted as an excited utterance:

No. 16-0229/AF. U.S. v. Ellwood T. Bowen. CCA 38616. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue specified by the Court:

Whether the military judge erred in applying the “excited utterance” exception to the hearsay rule to permit the government to introduce through the testimony of law enforcement personnel that appellant’s wife nodded her head in response to a question whether her husband “did this,” and in concluding that the prejudicial effect of this testimony was outweighed by its probative value. See M.R.E. 802 and 803(2); M.R.E. 403; United States v. Donaldson, 58 M.J. 477 (2003); United States v. Jones, 30 M.J. 127 (C.M.A. 1990); United States v. Arnold, 25 M.J. 129 (C.M.A. 1987); United States v. Iron Shell, 633 F.2d 77 (8th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1001 (1981).

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

An excited utterance is hearsay that is admissible because it is “relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.” Mil. R. Evid. 803(2). The Air Force CCA’s opinion in Bowen is available here and reveals that law enforcement responded to reports of screaming and discovered Bowen’s wife unconscious in the bathtub, and that she was only partially conscious when she was questioned. The military judge considered the circumstances and concluded that the head nod was admissible as an excited utterance, and the AFCCA affirmed that ruling.

Next, in the Army case of United States v. Swift, CAAF granted review of two issues and specified a third:

No. 16-0407/AR. U.S. v. Justin P. Swift. CCA 20100196. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issues raised by Appellant:

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.

And the following issue specified by the Court:

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

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s opinion is available here. It’s hard to clearly identify the uncharged misconduct at issue, but the CCA focuses on the military judge’s ruling that permitted a teacher to testify about an out-of-court statement that the child made to her years earlier. The military judge introduced the statement as “victim’s outcry evidence,” and the CCA rightly finds that this ruling was error because there is no such exception to the hearsay rule (though there used to be; see ¶ 142(c), MCM (1969) (available here)). However, the CCA concludes that the statement was admissible for a non-hearsay purpose:

[W]e conclude, first, that the military judge inappropriately applied the outdated “victim outcry” principle. Nonetheless, we agree that a non-hearsay basis exists to allow the admission of the statement – namely, effect-on-the-listener. KS’s out-of-court statement is not barred by Mil. R. Evid. 802 because it was not offered for the truth of the matter asserted. Despite the military judge’s ruling on the out-of-date notion of “outcry doctrine,” the trial counsel specifically offered the victim’s statement as “effect on the listener” and as a “prior consistent statement.” The statement was properly offered to show why Ms. A contacted CPS and how the investigation ensued.

United States v. Swift, No. 20100196, slip op. at 4-5 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 21, 2016) (emphasis). This conclusion is deeply problematic for at least three reasons. First, there’s no indication that the members were instructed about any limitation on the use of the statement the judge considered the statement for only a limited purpose, and the CCA can’t restrict its use post hoc. Second, the effect on the listener (that CPS was contacted) was not an issue at trial, and so the statement had no probative value (but a high prejudicial effect). Third, there’s no indication of any foundation for admission of a prior consistent statement (and a footnote acknowledges this).

Despite its butchery of the hearsay rule, the CCA concluded that the admission of the statement was harmless in part based on the appellant’s pretrial admissions. CAAF’s grant of review, however, directly challenges that conclusion.