CAAFlog » October 2017 Term » United States v. Dinger

Audio of last week’s outreach oral arguments is available at the following links:

United States v. Jones, No. 17-0608/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Dinger, No. 17-0510/MC (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Marine Corps case of United States v. Dinger, No. 17-0510/MC (CAAFlog case page), on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 10:00 a.m., at Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas. The court granted review to determine whether a court-martial may lawfully sentence a retired member to a punitive discharge, with the following issue:

10 U.S.C § 6332 states that when a person is placed in a retired status, this “transfer is conclusive for all purposes.” Can a court-martial lawfully sentence a retiree to a punitive discharge?

Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) Dinger, USMC (Ret.), pleaded guilty to two specifications of committing indecent acts, one specification of attempting to produce child pornography, two specifications of wrongfully making an indecent visual recording, and one specification of receiving, viewing, and possessing child pornography, in violation of Articles 80, 120, 120c, and 134, UCMJ. All of the offenses were committed after Dinger entered a retired status following the completion of 20 years of enlisted service in the active component of the Marine Corps. The military judge sentenced Dinger to confinement for nine years and a dishonorable discharge, and the convening authority suspended all confinement in excess of 8 years in accordance with a pretrial agreement.

The NMCCA affirmed in a published decision (76 M.J. 552) discussed here. The CCA rejected the issue now before CAAF and also rejected a separate claim that the court-martial lacked personal jurisdiction over Dinger, explaining that retired members of the active components of the armed forces remain subject to the UCMJ because “those in a retired status remain ‘members’ of the land and Naval forces who may face court-martial.” 76 M.J. at at 557.

Military retirement isn’t retirement in the ordinary meaning of the term; it’s just a change in status. Under Article 2(a)(4), the UCMJ applies to regular retirees who are entitled to pay. That category includes servicemembers who complete 20 (or more) years on active duty and accept retirement, and also those who are medically retired after less time. See United States v. Bowie, 34 C.M.R. 411, 412 (C.M.A. 1964).

The exercise of court-martial jurisdiction over retired members was the #1 Military Justice Story of 2017, and Dinger’s status as a Marine on the retired list seems indisputable. But his brief to CAAF begins by disputing it anyway:

As a civilian, Appellant appeared at his court-martial in civilian clothes.

App. Br. at 3. That Dinger was tried out of uniform is somewhat unsettling (and a better historian could probably count on one hand the number of times that’s happened under the UCMJ), but it doesn’t change the fact that he was a Marine gunnery sergeant on the retired list, entitled to pay, subject to recall, and subject to the UCMJ. In short, he was no civilian.

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Earlier this year, in this post, I discussed the NMCCA’s opinion in United States v. Dinger, 76 M.J. 552 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 28, 2017), in which a three-judge panel of that court affirmed that military retirement isn’t really retirement, it’s merely a change in duty status, and those who retire from active duty and receive retired pay remain subject to the UCMJ.

On Monday CAAF granted review, but of a narrow issue:

No. 17-0510/MC. U.S. v. Derrick L. Dinger. CCA 201600108. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

10 U.S.C. § 6332 STATES THAT WHEN A PERSON IS PLACED IN A RETIRED STATUS, THIS “TRANSFER IS CONCLUSIVE FOR ALL PURPOSES.” CAN A COURT-MARTIAL LAWFULLY SENTENCE A RETIREE TO A PUNITIVE DISCHARGE?

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The same issue is likely raised in Hennis – which is before the court for mandatory review under Article 67(a)(1) – because Hennis was a retiree who was sentenced to death and “a sentence of death includes a dishonorable discharge or dismissal as appropriate.” R.C.M. 1004(e).

In a published issued yesterday, in United States v. Dinger, 76 M.J. 552, No. 201600108 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 28, 2017) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA affirms a concept that I last noted here: Military retirement isn’t really retirement, it’s merely a change in duty status-

Notwithstanding Barker [v. Kansas, 503 U.S. 594, 605 (1992)] and its implications regarding the tax status of retired pay, we are firmly convinced that those in a retired status remain “members” of the land and Naval forces who may face court-martial. As the appellant was in a retired status during the offenses and the proceedings, he was validly subject to court-martial.

Slip op. at 8.

The appellant, Gunnery Sergeant Dinger, USMC (Ret.), pleaded guilty to two specifications of committing indecent acts, one specification of attempting to produce child pornography, two specifications of wrongfully making an indecent visual recording, and one specification of receiving, viewing, and possessing child pornography, in violation of Articles 80, 120, 120c, and 134, UCMJ.

All of the offenses were committed after Dinger entered a retired status following the completion of 20 years of enlisted service in the active component of the Marine Corps. The military judge sentenced Dinger to confinement for nine years and a dishonorable discharge, and the convening authority suspended all confinement in excess of 8 years in accordance with a pretrial agreement.

Writing for the panel Judge Rugh explains that:

By act of Congress, the appellant was subject to the UCMJ when he committed the offenses. Art. 2(a), UCMJ (“The following persons are subject to this chapter . . . . Retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay. . . . [and] Members of the Fleet Reserve and Fleet Marine Corps Reserve.”).

Slip op. at 4 (link to Article 2).

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