CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Blanks, 77 M.J. 239, No.17-0404/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, February 28, 2018. Finding no persuasive reason to overrule 65 years of precedent holding that negligent dereliction of duty is an offense under the UCMJ, CAAF affirms the appellant’s conviction of negligent dereliction and the decision of the Air Force CCA.
Judge Ohlson writes for a unanimous court.
Senior Airman (E-4) Blanks was charged with willful dereliction of duty but convicted of the lesser included offense of negligent dereliction of duty. The factual basis for the conviction was that Blanks failed to provide adequate financial support to his wife. Blanks challenged the conviction on appeal, asserting that recent mens rea jurisprudence (the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017), including CAAF’s functionally-unanimous decision in United States v. Haverty, 76 M.J. 199, (C.A.A.F. Apr. 25, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), establishes recklessness as the lowest mens rea which separates wrongful conduct from otherwise innocent conduct, and therefore his conviction for negligent dereliction must be reversed.
Intrigued by the challenge, CAAF granted review to determine whether:
In light of this Court’s decision in United States v. Haverty, 76 M.J. 199 (C.A.A.F. 2017) [CAAFlog case page], did the military judge err when he instructed the members Appellant could be convicted of negligent dereliction of duty?
Today the court unanimously rejected the challenge. Acknowledging a “long line of precedent,” Judge Ohlson explains that “the military judge did not err, plainly or otherwise, by instructing the members on the negligent dereliction of duty offense.” Slip op. at 3. The reason is stare decisis.