Opinion Analysis: Based on the defense argument at trial (not the different argument on appeal), the military judge did not abuse his discretion in United States v. Carpenter
CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Carpenter, 77 M.J. 285, No. 0476/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Reviewing the military judge’s restriction of the defense cross-examination of the alleged victim (based on Mil. R. Evid. 412), CAAF finds that the military judge did not abuse his discretion based on the defense argument at trial, despite the defense making a different argument on appeal. Accordingly, CAAF affirms the findings, sentence, and decision of the Air Force CCA.
Judge Ohlson writes for a unanimous court.
Senior Airman (E-4) Carpenter was convicted of sexual assault of a child in violation of Article 120b(b) for a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old boy (identified by the initials J.M.). Carpenter’s defense was that he mistakenly believed the boy was at least 16. In an effort to prove this mistaken belief, Carpenter’s defense counsel filed a motion in limine seeking to present evidence of J.M.’s sexual encounters with other adult men. The military judge denied the motion, however, holding “that the evidence was inadmissible because it was not relevant to Appellant’s mistake of fact as to J.M.’s age.” Slip op. at 3.
The Air Force CCA affirmed and CAAF granted review to determine:
Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals erred in limiting the cross-examination of the complaining witness under Military Rule of Evidence 412 on an issue showing that Appellant’s subjective mistake of fact as to the complaining witness’s age was objectively reasonable.
Emphasizing that “when reviewing a military judge’s ruling for an abuse of discretion, [CAAF] pierce[s] the CCA’s opinion and examine[s] the military judge’s ruling directly,” slip op. at 3 n.5, Judge Ohlson explains that “in the context of the argument made by trial defense counsel in the motion in limine, we conclude that the military judge’s decision to exclude evidence pursuant to M.R.E. 412 was not clearly erroneous,” slip op. at 6 (emphasis added).