CAAFlog » October 2018 Term

Last week CAAF granted review in an Army case and the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force filed a cross-certification in a case in which CAAF granted review last month.

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CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Hamilton, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0135/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, February 28, 2019. Concluding that the military judge erred in admitting three victim impact statements into evidence during the sentencing phase of the court-martial – because they were not admissible under any rule – the court avoids answering the separate question of whether a statement by a crime victim admissible under R.C.M. 1001A (the President’s implementation of the Article 6b right to be reasonably heard) is evidence that is subject to any of the Military Rules of Evidence. Nevertheless, despite finding error, CAAF finds no prejudice and it affirms the findings ans sentence as affirmed by the Air Force CCA.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

Senior Airman (E-4) Hamilton pleaded guilty to wrongful possession and distribution of child pornography, and a military judge sentenced him to confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a bad-conduct discharge. During the sentencing phase of the court-martial, the prosecution offered three exhibits as either evidence in aggravation (admissible under R.C.M. 1001(b)(4) (2016)) or statements of victims (admissible under R.C.M. 1001A (2016)). The exhibits were:

Prosecution Exhibit 4: A statement from the child (identified as B) depicted in some of the images possessed by Hamilton, and also a statement from her mother.

Prosecution Exhibit 5: A video of a speech given by B at a conference about crimes against children.

Prosecution Exhibit 6: A written statement from another child (identified as J) depicted in other images possessed by Hamilton.

Hamilton’s defense counsel objected but the military judge overruled the objection. His ruling, however, did not clearly identify the basis for admission of the exhibits. Hamilton renewed his objection on appeal, but the Air Force CCA rejected it. The CCA concluded that the exhibits were admissible as statements of a victim under R.C.M. 1001A and that such statements “are not evidence” and so the Military Rules of Evidence “do not apply” to them. United States v. Hamilton, 77 M.J. 579, 584–86 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2017) (analyzed here).

CAAF then granted review of two issues:

I. Are victim impact statements admitted pursuant to R.C.M. 1001A evidence subject to the Military Rules of Evidence?

II. Whether the military judge erred in admitting prosecution exhibits 4, 5, and 6.

Finding that the military judge erred in admitting the exhibits under any rule, CAAF does answer not address whether a R.C.M. 1001A statement is evidence subject to the Military Rules of Evidence (though it does give some hints) because to decide that question “would constitute an advisory opinion.” Slip op. at 11.

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Kohlbek, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0267/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, February 25, 2019. Reviewing the seemingly-blanket prohibition in Mil. R. Evid. 707 against admitting evidence of polygraph examinations, CAAF concludes that the prohibition is not so broad. In this case, however, the military judge’s ruling prohibiting the defense from introducing evidence that a confession was preceded by a polygraph is harmless error because of the strength of the other evidence of guilt.

Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.

CAAF granted review of one issue:

Whether the military judge erred by misconstruing Mil.R.Evid. 707 and prohibiting Appellant from presenting evidence relevant to Appellant’s post-polygraph statement.

Specialist (E-4) Kohlbek was tried by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone. He pleaded guilty to three specifications of assault consummated by a battery upon a child under sixteen years old, in violation of Article 128, as lesser included offenses of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b. The prosecution then proceeded to trial on the greater offenses, resulting in Kohlbek’s conviction of four specifications of sexual abuse of a child. The military judge sentenced Kohlbek to confinement for 15 months, reduction to E-3, and a bad-conduct discharge.

Kohlbek’s convictions relate to an encounter with a girl identified by the initials AH. AH was a friend of Kohlbek’s step-daughter and she spent a night at Kohlbek’s home. While she was there, Kohlbek got drunk, entered the room where AH was sleeping, and sexually touched AH. AH immediately reported the incident and military police apprehended Kohlbek.

Kohlbek did not deny wrongdoing (rather, he pleaded guilty to assaulting the girl), but he did claim no memory of the incident. In turn, Kohlbek’s defense counsel asserted that Kohlbek was too drunk to form the specific intent required for the charged sexual offense. But the defense had a problem: Kohlbek confessed. Specifically, Kohlbek agreed to be questioned by military investigators and he agreed to take a polygraph examination. After the polygraph, investigators told Kohlbek (quite predictably) that he failed the polygraph and they continued to interrogate him, eventually leading Kohlbek to say:

Fine. I did it. I will write whatever you want. I’ll write a sworn statement to it. Just get me out of here.

Slip op. at 4 (quoting CCA opinion). Kohlbek’s confession followed. Kohlbek’s defense counsel tried to undermine the truthfulness of the confession by showing that it was given after a polygraph and under duress. But the military judge prohibited the defense from doing so based on the prohibition in Mil. R. Evid. 707(a) that states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the result of a polygraph examination, the polygraph examiner’s opinion, or any reference to an offer to take, failure to take, or taking of a polygraph examination is not admissible.

Kohlbek challenged that ruling on appeal, asserting that the rule is not so broad that it prohibits any mention of a polygraph whatsoever and also that if it is so broad then it unconstitutionally infringes on the right to present a defense. In yesterday’s opinion CAAF agrees that the rule is not so broad (and deliberately avoids the constitutional question).

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CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Smith, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0211/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Friday, February 22, 2019. In a short, per curiam opinion, the court finds any error waived.

Warrant Officer One (W-1) Smith was convicted of two specifications of indecent recording in violation of Article 120c(a) (2012) and sentenced to confinement for two months and a dishonorable discharge. The allegations arose after a young woman saw Smith take a photograph under her dress using an iPhone. She sounded the alarm, Smith was quickly apprehended, and the iPhone was seized. Military investigators then sought authorization to search the iPhone and also to seize and search any other Apple product in Smith’s residence under the theory that the iPhone could synchronize with those products. The authorization was granted, several other devices were seized, and all of the devices were sent for examination. After some forensic wizardry, investigators discovered incriminating videos on the iPhone.

Smith’s defense counsel moved to suppress the videos at trial, arguing that the iPhone was unlawfully seized (at the time of the woman’s complaint) and that the search authorization of the iPhone was not supported by probable cause. The motion was denied, the videos were admitted, and Smith was convicted. Smith renewed the suppression issue on appeal, but asserted a new basis: that investigator unlawfully used the other devices to gain access to the contents of the iPhone. The Army CCA refused to consider Smith’s new argument because it wasn’t presented to the trial military judge, but the CCA also held that the good faith exception applied. CAAF then granted review of two issues:

I. Whether the military judge abused her discretion in denying a defense motion to suppress evidence obtained from Appellant’s cellular telephone because access to the contents of the iPhone would not have been available but for the government’s illegal search and the good faith doctrine would be inapplicable under the circumstances.

II. Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred in deeming the insufficient nexus issue waived because there was no deliberate decision not to present a ground for potential relief but instead only a failure to succinctly articulate the grounds upon which relief was sought.

Those issue have complex wording but present two relatively-straightforward questions: First, whether the good faith exception to the warrant requirement applies (an issue more directly presented in a different case – United States v. Perkins, No. 18-0365/MC (CAAFlog case page) – that was argued on the same day as Smith). Second, whether waiver applies.

When an issue is waived there is no error to correct on appeal, and “waiver can occur either by operation of law or by the intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right.” United States v. Jones, 78 M.J. 37, 44 (C.A.A.F. 2018) (CAAFlog case page) (marks and citations omitted). Smith involved the possibility of waiver by operation of law because Mil. R. Evid. 312(d)(2)(A) requires a motion to suppress seized evidence to be made prior to entry of pleas and CAAF’s precedent states that such a motion must identify the particular reasons why the evidence should be suppressed (with unidentified reasons waived). That precedent includes an opinion from just 11 months ago, in United States v. Robinson (AF), 77 M.J. 303 (C.A.A.F. Mar. 26, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), in which CAAF applied waiver in an almost identical situation. Robinson’s trial defense counsel moved to suppress text messages seized from Robinson’s cell phone on the basis that Robinson’s consent to the seizure was involuntary, but then Robinson’s appellate defense counsel argued that the messages should have been suppressed because the seizure exceeded the scope of Robinson’s consent. Both the Air Force CCA and CAAF applied waiver to the basis raised on appeal, with Judge Ohlson writing that:

We note that the issue of waiver under M.R.E. 311(d)(2) was previously reached. United States v. Stringer, 37 M.J. 120, 125 (C.M.A. 1993) (“In view of the absence of a particularized objection at trial … we will consider the issue waived.”); see also id. at 132 (Wiss, J., concurring in the result) (finding that waiver “makes good sense” under M.R.E. 311(d) when defense counsel’s objection to issues other than that raised on appeal prevented appellate issue from being litigated at trial and may have precluded prosecution from submitting evidence which would have clarified matter).

Robinson, 77 M.J. at 307 n.6 (omission in original).

Nevertheless, in Smith the Army Government Appellate Division conceded that waiver does not apply. CAAF, however, rejects that concession:

In light of our unambiguous holding in Robinson, we reject the Government’s concession that “[w]here [an] appellant moves to suppress evidence under M.R.E. 311 but fails to articulate a possible ground upon which to suppress the evidence, this forfeits (but does not waive) the issue.” While the Government correctly notes that “this Court has found that there are instances where the plain language of a military rule for court-martial or rule of evidence reads ‘waiver’ but may be interpreted as ‘forfeiture,’ ” it somehow missed the fact that we have already decided that this is not one of those instances. Given the parties’ confusion, we take this opportunity today to reiterate that failure to object under M.R.E. 311 constitutes waiver, not forfeiture. Robinson, 77 M.J. at 307.

In the instant case, it is indisputable that Appellant failed to raise the use of his computer as a “key” to open his iPhone as a possible ground for suppression in either his written motion to suppress or at the suppression hearing. Appellant concedes this point. Thus, he waived the issue.

Slip op. at 2-3 (modifications in original).

Case Links:
ACCA opinion
Appellant’s brief
Appelllee’s (Army Gov’t App. Div.) brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Blog post: Argument preview
Oral argument audio
CAAF opinion
Blog post: Opinion analysis

CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Briggs, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0711/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Friday, February 22, 2019. Applying last term’s decision in United States v. Mangahas, 77 M.J. 220 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 6, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF holds that the 2006 amendment to the statute of limitations for the offense of rape was not retroactive, and that military law requires a military judge to advise an accused on the statute of limitations if it applies. Accordingly, CAAF reverses the appellant’s conviction of rape and dismisses the charge.

Judge Maggs writes for a unanimous court.

In 2014, Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) Briggs was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of one specification of rape in violation of Article 120 (pre-2007). The rape was alleged to have occurred nine years earlier, in 2005. The military judge sentenced Briggs to confinement for five months, a reprimand, and to be dismissed.

At the time of Briggs’ trial, CAAF’s precedent held that there was no statute of limitations for the offense of rape. As a result, Briggs did not raise a statute of limitations defense at trial. On appeal, however, Briggs did raise the issue, but the Air Force CCA refused to consider it because Briggs had not raised it at trial. The CCA affirmed the findings and sentence, and CAAF denied review of Briggs’ claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his defense counsel failed to raise the statute of limitations at trial. But Briggs’ case became one of many trailer cases to Ortiz v. United States, 585 U.S. __, No. 16-1423 (June 22, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), in which the Supreme Court held that an appellate military judge may also serve as an assigned judge of the Court of Military Commission Review. And while SCOTUS was considering Ortiz, CAAF decided Mangahas.

Mangahas reversed 20 years of precedent and reinterpreted the statute of limitations for rape of an adult, clarifying that rape (without aggravating factors) is not constitutionally punishable by death and so the statute of limitations was just five years (until Congress changed the law in 2006). CAAF’s decision in Mangahas resulted in the dismissal of a then-pending rape charge for conduct alleged to have occurred in 1997, and it also led the Air Force CCA to reverse a 2017 conviction for a rape alleged to have occurred in 2000, in United States v. Collins, 78 M.J. 530 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 23, 2018) (discussed here), certified, 78 M.J. __ (C.A.A.F. Nov. 5, 2018) (noted here).

CAAF’s decision in Mangahas gave life to the the statute of limitations issue in Briggs, and SCOTUS remanded the case for review in light of Mangahas. CAAF then agreed to consider two issues:

I. Does the 2006 amendment to Article 43, UCMJ, clarifying that rape is an offense with no statute of limitations, apply retroactively to offenses committed before enactment of the amendment but for which the then extant statute of limitations had not expired.

II. Can Appellant successfully raise a statute of limitations defense for the first time on appeal.

In today’s decision CAAF holds that the 2006 change to the statute of limitations (Article 43) does not apply retroactively, meaning that the statute of limitations applicable in Briggs’ case is just five years. CAAF also holds that a statute of limitations defense can be raised for the first time on appeal, though when that happens the issue is tested for plain error. But because plain error applies the law as it exists at the time of the appeal (and not as it existed at the time of trial), Magahas makes the error plain and Briggs’ conviction is reversed.

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

United States v. Tovarchavez, No. 18-0371/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio (wma)(mp3)

United States v. Voorhees, No. 18-0372/AF (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio (wma)(mp3)

The audio is also available on our oral argument audio podcast.

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

United States v. McDonald, No. 18-0308/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Gleason, No. 18-0305/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

The audio is also available on our oral argument audio podcast.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Voorhees, No. 18-0372/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, after the argument in Tovarchavez. Three granted issues question the mens rea necessary to commit conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman and the propriety of numerous aspects of the prosecution’s closing argument:

I. Whether the AFCCA erred in finding no plain error despite trial counsel’s argument on findings that personally attacked appellant and trial defense counsel, commented on Appellant’s silence, expressed his personal opinions, bolstered his own credibility, vouched for government witnesses, speculated, and made reference to facts not in evidence.

II. Whether the AFCCA erred in finding that the specifications alleging violations of Article 133, UCMJ, stated an offense despite the fact that they lack words of criminality or a mens rea.

III. Whether plain error occurred when the military judge failed to instruct the members that mens rea was an element of an offense under Article 133.

Major (O-4) Voorhees was convicted by a general court-martial composed of members of one specification of sexual assault and five specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, in violation of Articles 120 and 133. The conduct unbecoming specifications alleged that Voorhees had inappropriate communications with three women (four specifications) and that he massaged the back of one of them (an enlisted Airman). The sexual assault conviction involved intercourse with one of the women, but was reversed by the Air Force CCA as factually insufficient in 2016. The CCA ordered a sentence rehearing, and Voorhees was sentenced to a reprimand and to be dismissed. The CCA affirmed the revised sentence last year.

On appeal, Voorhees challenged the sufficiency of the Article 133 specifications to state an offense and also the prosecution’s closing argument as improper. The CCA rejected the challenges in its 2016 opinion, and CAAF is now reviewing that decision.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Tovarchavez, No. 18-0371/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. A single granted issue challenges the standard applied by the Army CCA when it affirmed a sexual assault conviction after concluding that the improper use of charged offenses for propensity purposes – a constitutional error identified by CAAF in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 27, 2016) (CAAFlog case page) – was harmless but not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt:

Whether the Army Court erred, first, in finding that this Court overruled sub silencio the Supreme Court holding in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967), and this Court’s own holdings in United States v. Wolford, 62 M.J. 418, 420 (C.A.A.F. 2006), and in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350, 357 (C.A.A.F. 2016), and, consequently, in testing for prejudice in this case using the standard for nonconstitutional error.

Specialist (E-4) Tovarchavez was charged with sexually assaulting another soldier on two occasions. The military judge instructed the members that they could use the charged offenses as evidence of Tovarchavez’s propensity to commit the charged offenses (the Hills error), and the defense did not object. Tovarchavez was then convicted of one of the two charged offenses and sentenced to confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

The Army CCA issued two opinions in this case. The first (available here) was issued on September 7, 2017, and found the Hills error to be harmless. But the CCA also ordered a DuBay hearing to consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. After the DuBay hearing, the CCA issued a second opinion (available here) that reconsidered the Hills error, leading to CAAF’s grant.

Because Tovarchavez’s defense counsel didn’t object (and, in fact, affirmatively stated that the defense had no objection) to the improper propensity instruction, the error was forfeited and the plain error test applies. The plain error test penalizes the failure to object by shifting the burden on appeal to the appellant, forcing him to show that there (1) was an error, (2) that is plain or obvious, and (3) that caused material prejudice to a substantial right. But the requirement of material prejudice to a substantial right is not unique to the plain error test in military law; Article 59(a) states that:

A finding or sentence of a court-martial may not be held incorrect on the ground of an error of law unless the error materially prejudices the substantial rights of the accused.

Put differently, if a legal error is harmless then a court-martial conviction may not be reversed. How harmless, however, depends on the error. For an ordinary error, mere harmlessness is enough; the error is not prejudicial (and the conviction may not be reversed) “if the factfinder was not influenced by it, or if the error had only a slight effect on the resolution of the issues of the case.” United States v. Muirhead, 51 M.J. 94, 97 (C.A.A.F. 1999). But if the error affects a constitutional right, then a heightened standard applies; the error is prejudicial unless it is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. And “an error is not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt when there is a reasonable possibility that the error complained of might have contributed to the conviction.” Hills, 75 M.J. at 357-58 (marks and citations omitted).

A Hills error is constitutional error. Nevertheless, in the CCA’s second opinion in Tovarchavez, a two-judge majority of a three-judge panel of the Army CCA applied the lower standard of mere harmlessness (and not the higher standard of harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt) to that error, in part because the error was forfeited by the failure to object at trial. The majority found the error harmless and affirmed the conviction, but it also explained that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the outcome of the case hinges on which standard of harmlessness applies.

Tovarchavez’s brief presents two simple propositions: “the Supreme Court[‘s] decision in Chapman v. California . . . established harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as the test for prejudice when constitutional error was not preserved at trial,” and “the Supreme Court also forbade lower courts from departing from the test announced in Chapman in favor of a competing definition of harmless error.” App. Br. at 7. Accordingly, argues Tovarchavez, the applicable standard for harmlessness is harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt and only the Supreme Court can change that.

The Government Divison’s brief asserts that the law is not so clear.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Gleason, No. 18-0305/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, February 19, 2019, after the argument in McDonald. The court granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court erred by affirming a novel specification covered by an enumerated Art. 134, UCMJ offense.

Last year, in United States v. Reese, 76 M.J. 297 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 14, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF explained that a novel Article 134 specification must allege an act or omission that is not already an enumerated Article 134 offense, and it reversed a conviction of a novel violation of Article 134 that was intended to charge obstruction of justice but omitted elements of that enumerated offense.

Gleason presents an substantially-identical challenge. Staff Sergeant (E-6) Gleason was convicted of multiple offenses including a novel Article 134 specification alleging that he interfered with the ability of his victim to place a call requesting emergency assistance. Gleason asserts that the novel specification was improper because it eliminated elements of the enumerated Article 134 offense of obstruction of justice.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. McDonald, No. 18-0308/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, February 19, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review of the following issue about the minimum mens rea (mental state) necessary to commit the offense of sexual assault by causing bodily harm where the bodily harm is a nonconsensual sexual act:

Whether the military judge erred in instructing the panel that a negligent mens rea was sufficient to make otherwise lawful conduct criminal.

Mens rea was the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017 because of a series of CAAF decisions involving the mental state required to violate the UCMJ. McDonald (and a second case presenting substantially the same issue) involves Article 120(b)(1)(B) (2012), which prohibited sexual assault by causing bodily harm, and the definition of bodily harm included a nonconsensual sexual act or sexual contact. Put differently, since nonconsensual sexual activity is generally considered to be the definition of sexual assault, the statute functionally prohibited sexual assault by causing sexual assault. Congress repealed that offense in Section 5430 of the Military Justice Act of 2016 (that became effective on January 1, 2019), but it replaced it with a new-but-similar Article 120(b)(2)(A) that prohibits “commit[ting] a sexual act upon another person without the consent of the other person.”

In neither offense, however, did Congress identify a specific mens rea. Put differently, Congress didn’t say whether – to be guilty of the offense – an accused must actually know that the other person didn’t consent (actual knowledge), or recklessly disregard evidence of lack or consent (recklessness), or just fail to discover that the other person didn’t consent (negligence). Congress also could have said (but didn’t say) that the accused’s knowledge doesn’t matter at all (strict liability). Accordingly, the mens rea applicable to the offense is an open question.

CAAF granted review in McDonald back in September (noted here), and since then two CCAs have issued decisions addressing the issue. First, in United States v. Patrick, __ M.J. __ (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 11, 2018) (link to slip op.), the NMCCA held that the applicable mens rea is found in the definition of sexual act which required (under the facts of that case) an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade. A month later, in United States v. Peebles, __ M.J. __, No. 20170044 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan 10, 2019) (link to slip op.), the Army CCA rejected the NMCCA’s reasoning and held that “recklessness is the mens rea applicable to the element of non-consent in Article 120(b)(l)(B), where the bodily harm is alleged to be the sexual act itself.”

The facts of McDonald, however, present the possibility that CAAF won’t immediately resolve the split between the Army and Navy-Marine Corps CCA.

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CAAF decided the certified Navy case of United States v. Cooper, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0282/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, February 12, 2019. A nearly-unanimous court finds that an accused’s affirmative failure to request individual military defense counsel after a military judge discusses the right to make such a request with the accused is a knowing and intentional waiver of the right. The court reverses the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA (that found a violation of the right) and remands for further review.

Chief Judge Stucky writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Sparks who dissents.

Every accused at a court-martial is detailed a military defense counsel, free of charge, without regard to indigence. The accused may even request a specific individual military defense counsel (IMC), however that person must be reasonably available as determined by service regulations (that generally narrow the choice considerably).

Yeoman Second Class (E-5) Cooper was convicted, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of three specifications of sexual assault and one specification of abusive sexual contact. He was sentenced to confinement for five years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

Cooper was represented by two detailed military defense counsel: Lieutenant (LT) Buyske and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Gross. At trial, the military judge asked Cooper who he wanted to represent him (a standard question), and Cooper said that the wanted to be represented by just those two lawyers and by nobody else. But on appeal Cooper claimed that he also wanted to be represented by IMC, and that his detailed defense counsel failed to request one of the three people Cooper identified as potential IMC. The Navy-Marine Corps CCA ordered a post-trial factfinding hearing, concluded that Cooper was denied his statutory right to IMC, and reversed Cooper’s convictions.

The Judge Advocate General of the Navy then certified the case and four issues to CAAF, challenging the CCA’s findings that Cooper did not waive his right to IMC when he failed to make his desire known to the military judge, that Cooper was denied his statutory right to IMC, and that reversal is warranted as a result:

I. Did the lower court err not finding waiver of the right to request individual military counsel where Appellee was advised of his right to request an individual military counsel, agreed he understood the right but wanted instead to be represented by trial defense counsel, and made no motion for individual military counsel?

II. Did the lower court err in not applying the Strickland ineffective assistance test where the government and trial judge played no part in the defense’s failure to request individual military counsel, and if so, did Appellee suffer ineffective assistance of counsel?

III. If Strickland does not apply, did the lower court correctly find Appellee was deprived of his statutory right to request individual military counsel?

IV. Did the lower court err in it’s prejudice analysis for Appellee’s asserted deprivation of his statutory right to individual military counsel when Appellee did not preserve the issue at trial, raised the issue for the first time on appeal, and has alleged no specific prejudice?

A majority of CAAF answers the first issue in the affirmative, finding waiver based on the fact that Cooper “fully understood the nature of the right to IMC and how it would have applied to him,” slip op. at 9, and then told the military judge that he did not want any other lawyer to represent him. The court then orders a remand to the CCA for consideration of other issues that Cooper raised on appeal but the CCA did not address in its initial review.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Forbes, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0304/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on February  7, 2019. The court unanimously affirms guilty pleas to three specifications of sexual assault by causing bodily harm based on the appellant intentionally hiding his HIV-positive status from his sexual partners.

Judge Sparks writes for a unanimous court.

Aviation Maintenance Administrationman Second Class (E-5) Forbes pleaded guilty to various offenses, including four specifications of sexual assault by causing bodily harm (in the form of a non-consensual sexual act) in violation of Article 120(b)(1)(B) (2012) that were related to Forbes intentionally hiding his HIV-positive status from his sexual partners.

The theory that failure to inform a sexual partner of HIV status constitutes bodily harm was based on CAAF’s holding in United States v. Gutierrez, 74 M.J. 61 (C.A.A.F. 2015) (CAAFlog case page) (the #7 Military Justice Story of 2015), in which the court unanimously held that:

Appellant’s conduct included an offensive touching to which his sexual partners did not provide meaningful informed consent. See R. v. Cuerrier, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 371, 372 (Can.) (“Without disclosure of HIV status there cannot be a true consent.”).

74 M.J. at 68. The Navy-Marine Corps CCA applied Gutierrez to affirm Forbes’ guilty pleas in a published decision. United States v. Forbes, 77 M.J. 765, 769 (N-M Ct. Crim. App. 2018) (discussed here). CAAF then granted review of one issue:

Whether the Navy court erred in holding that appellant was provident to sexual assault by bodily harm due to his failure to inform his sexual partners of his HIV status.

In today’s opinion Judge Sparks clearly explains that the guilty plea in this case is entirely proper because “true consent must be informed,” slip op. at 4 n.4, and therefore:

Appellant committed a sexual assault each time he had sexual intercourse with one of the victims without first informing her of his HIV status and thereby lawfully obtaining her consent to the intercourse.

Slip op. at 4.

Congress repealed Article 120(b)(1)(B) (2012) in Section 5430 of the Military Justice Act of 2016 (that became effective on January 1, 2019), but it replaced it with a new Article 120(b)(2)(A) that prohibits “commit[ting] a sexual act upon another person without the consent of the other person.” CAAF’s holding in this case will almost certainly apply to that new offense.

Case Links:
NMCCA opinion
Blog post: NMCCA opinion analysis
Blog post: CAAF grants review
Appellant’s brief
Appelllee’s (N.M. App. Gov’t Div.) brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Amicus brief in support of Appellant (OutServe-SLDN, Inc.)
Blog post: Argument preview
Oral argument audio
CAAF opinion
Blog post: Opinion analysis

CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Hale, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0162/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on February 6, 2019. Addressing the limited (though recently expanded) UCMJ jurisdiction over members of the reserve components and the prosecution’s use of evidence of conduct that occurred outside of those limits in this case, a majority of CAAF finds the evidence was properly used to prove intent associated with conduct that was subject to UCMJ jurisdiction, and it affirms the findings, sentence, and decision of the Air Force CCA.

Judge Sparks writes for the court joined by all but Judge Ohlson, who dissents in part (disagreeing with the core holding of the majority opinion).

CAAF then granted review of two issues and specified a third:

Granted Issues:
I. The lower court found as a matter of law that personal jurisdiction does not exist outside of the hours of inactive-duty training. The lower court proceeded to find personal jurisdiction existed over Appellant because he was “staying” with his in-laws. Was this error?

II. Whether the lower court erred when it concluded the military judge correctly instructed the members they could convict Appellant for conduct “on or about” the dates alleged in each specification.

Specified Issue:
III. Whether the lower court erred in concluding the court-martial had jurisdiction over specification 2 of additional charge 1, as modified to affirm the lesser included offense of attempted larceny.

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Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) permits admission of evidence of uncharged acts for non-propensity purposes such as proving knowledge, intent, or the existence of a plan.

In the Air Force case of United States v. Hyppolite, No. 39358 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 25, 2018) (link to slip op.), the Air Force CCA considered convictions of unlawful sexual touchings of four individuals where the prosecution was allowed to use each alleged touching as evidence of the accused’s plan to commit the other touchings:

The Government argued . . . that Appellant’s conduct admitted to prove each charged offense could properly be used under Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) as evidence that Appellant had a pattern or common plan of engaging in sexual conduct with his friends after they had been drinking and were asleep or trying to fall asleep.

Slip op. at 8. Of five charged specifications (one of which – specification 2 – resulted in an acquittal) the CCA concluded that some were admissible as evidence of a plan to commit others, but all were not admissible to prove all:

the military judge erred in concluding that evi-dence of sexual contact supporting Specifications 1–3 made more probable a fact of consequence for Specifications 4 and 5 and vice versa.

Slip op. at 11. The CCA then found one conviction (specification 1) factually insufficient and the erroneous 404(b) ruling harmless with respect to the other convictions.

Last week CAAF granted review of the CCA’s finding of harmlessness:

No. 19-0119/AF. U.S. v. Ralph J. Hyppolite, II. CCA 39358. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE’S ERRONEOUS ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE REGARDING SPECIFICATIONS 1, 2, AND 3 AS A COMMON PLAN OR SCHEME FOR SPECIFICATIONS 4 AND 5 WAS HARMLESS.

Briefs will be filed under C.A.A.F. R. 25.