CAAFlog » October 2017 Term » United States v. Simpson

CAAF decided the certified Army case of United States v. Simpson, 77 M.J. 279, No. 17-0329/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, March 19, 2018. Answering the certified issue in the negative, CAAF reemphasizes that the victim of a larceny under Article 121 is the person or entity from whom the accused obtained the goods or money at issue, and not merely any person who suffered a loss or consequence as a result of the accused’s actions. Nevertheless, CAAF reverses the Army CCA’s decision, finding that the appellant’s guilty plea to conspiracy to commit larceny may stand and that a conviction of attempted larceny (as a lesser included offense of larceny) may also be affirmed.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

Sergeant (E-5) Simpson, in cahoots with his civilian girlfriend, initiated fraudulent electronic transfers from a corporate bank account used by Credit First National Association (CFNA). The account itself was held by JPMorgan Chase bank, and the frauds were accomplished by using the account’s information for electronic payments for Simpson’s bills. Simpson also conspired with another Soldier to use the CFNA account to pay the other Soldier’s bills. Simpson’s frauds amounted to over $30,000, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to one specification of larceny on divers occasions, and one specification of conspiracy to commit larceny, in violation of Articles 121 and 81, and was sentenced to confinement for two months, reduction to E-4, and a bad-conduct discharge.

On appeal, however, Simpson challenged his pleas on the basis that they identified CFNA as the victim when JPMorgan was the actual victim. A three-judge panel of the Army CCA agreed (in a 2-1 decision) and reversed both pleas. The Judge Advocate General of the Army then certified a single issue to CAAF:

Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred by finding a substantial basis in law and fact to question Appellant’s plea in light of the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Shaw, 137 S.Ct. 462 (2016), and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decision in United States v. Cimball-Sharpton, 73 M.J. 299 (C.A.A.F. 2014).

In today’s opinion Judge Ryan explains that the answer to the certified question is no, but the Army CCA’s decision to reverse both convictions was mostly wrong for other reasons.

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

United States v. Robinson, No. 17-0231/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Simpson, No. 17-0329/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Army case of United States v. Simpson, No. 17-0329/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, November 29, 2017, at 9:30 a.m., after the argument in RobinsonThe Judge Advocate General of the Army certified a single issue challenging the Army CCA’s reversal of Simpson’s conviction for larceny:

Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred by finding a substantial basis in law and fact to question Appellant’s plea in light of the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Shaw, 137 S.Ct. 462 (2016), and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decision in United States v. Cimball-Sharpton, 73 M.J. 299 (C.A.A.F. 2014).

Sergeant (E-5) Simpson, in cahoots with his civilian girlfriend, initiated fraudulent electronic transfers from a corporate bank account used by Credit First National Association (CFNA). The account itself was held by JPMorgan Chase bank, and the frauds were accomplished by using the account’s information for electronic payments for Simpson’s bills.

Simpson’s frauds amounted to over $30,000. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one specification of larceny on divers occasions, and one specification of conspiracy to commit larceny, in violation of Articles 121 and 81, and was sentenced to confinement for two months, reduction to E-4, and a bad-conduct discharge.

On appeal, however, Simpson challenged his pleas on the basis that they identified CFNA as the victim when JPMorgan was the actual victim.

The Manual for Courts-Martial explains that:

Wrongfully engaging in a credit, debit, or electronic transaction to obtain goods or money is an obtaining-type larceny by false pretense. Such use to obtain goods is usually a larceny of those goods from the merchant offering them. Such use to obtain money or a negotiable instrument (e.g., withdrawing cash from an automated teller or a cash advance from a bank) is usually a larceny of money from the entity presenting the money or a negotiable instrument.

MCM, Part IV, ¶ 46.c.(1)(i)(vi). In recent years CAAF applied this understanding and the common law of larceny (on which Article 121 is based) to hold that using someone else’s debit card is larceny from either the financial institution operating the account or the merchants who accept the card, and not a larceny from the card account holder even though the account holder might suffer a consequence from the offense. United States v. Williams, 75 M.J. 129 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 23, 2016) (CAAFlog case page); United States v. Endsley, 74 M.J. 216 (C.A.A.F. Jan 14, 2015) (summ. disp.) (discussed here).

Simpson presents a practically-identical set of facts, except that the case involves electronic account information instead of an actual debit card.

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Update: While I initially noted five grants of review, I only wrote about four. I eventually realized that I failed in counting to five and now update this post to include the fifth grant (in Bailey).

Some interesting cases recently joined CAAF’s docket, with a certification and five grants of review.

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