CAAFlog » October 2016 Term » United States v. Wilson

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Wilson, 76 M.J. 4, No. 16-0267/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Friday, January 13, 2017. Considering an issue raised personally by the appellant, CAAF concludes that a fenced motor pool is not a structure for the purposes of housebreaking in violation of Article 130, 10 U.S.C. § 930. Accordingly, the appellant’s housebreaking conviction is factually insufficient and CAAF reverses the conviction and the decision of the Army CCA.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

Specialist (E-4) Wilson and an accomplice entered the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion motor pool at Fort Benning, Georgia, intending to steal batteries. They were caught. Wilson pleaded guilty to larceny in violation of Article 121 (for prior thefts) but he contested a charge of housebreaking of the motor pool in violation of Article 130.

The offense of housebreaking requires unlawful entry into a building or structure. The motor pool at issue, however, “is a concrete lot completely surrounded by a fence. . . used for the storage and maintenance of military property, including vehicles.” Slip op. at 3. The motor pool contains sotrage buildings, but Wilson did not enter any building “nor did he cut any locks, open any doors, or climb through the windows of any building.” Slip op. at 3.

At trial Wilson moved for a finding of not guilty arguing that the motor pool did not qualify as a structure under Article 130. The military judge denied the motion. Wilson renewed his argument on appeal but it was rejected by the Army CCA. CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred in denying the defense motion for appropriate relief under Rule for Court-Martial 917 where the military judge improperly applied Article 130, housebreaking, to a motor pool.

CAAF finds that the military judge did err.

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

United States v. Gomez, No. 16-0336/CG (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Wilson, No. 16-0267/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Wilson, No. 16-0267/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, after the oral argument in Gomez. The case involves one issue that was raised personally by the appellant and questions whether an outdoor fenced area meets the definition of a building or structure for purposes of the offense of housebreaking in violation of Article 130, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. § 930:

Whether the military judge erred in denying the defense motion for appropriate relief under Rule for Court-Martial 917 where the military judge improperly applied Article 130, housebreaking, to a motor pool.

Specialist (E-4) Wilson and an accomplice entered the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion motor pool at Fort Benning, Georgia, intending to steal batteries. They were caught. Wilson pleaded guilty to larceny in violation of Article 121 (for prior thefts) but he contested a charge of housebreaking of the motor pool in violation of Article 130. The offense of housebreaking requires entry into a building or structure:

Any person subject to this chapter who unlawfully enters the building or structure of another with intent to commit a criminal offense therein is guilty of housebreaking and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Article 130. The motor pool at issue, however, is an outdoor area surrounded by a fence. There is a building inside the fence that is part of the motor pool, but Wilson didn’t enter it. Rather,

Appellant and [his accomplice] did not enter a building to get to the batteries, but they did have to jump over a fence. The batteries were inside the motor pool stacked on a pallet.The pallet was outside of a bay or a building that was also inside of the motor pool.

Gov’t Br. at 4 (citations to record omitted). Considering these facts at trial, the military judge concluded that housebreaking in violation of Article 130 “can apply to fenced enclosures such as a motor pool or storage yard.” App. Br. at 5. The military judge then denied Wilson’s R.C.M. 917 motion for a finding of not guilty on the basis that there was evidence that Wilson “did jump the fence, or did enter the structure, of the 3rd BSTB motor pool.” App. Br. at 5 (qouting record).

The Army CCA summarily rejected the assigned error. CAAF then granted review.

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