Opinion Analysis: The appellant’s indecent online communications were not protected by the Constitution and they disgraced him as an officer and a gentleman, in United States v. Meakin
CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Meakin, 78 M.J. 396, No. 18-0339/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on May 7, 2019. Considering the appellant’s indecent online communications with others (one of whom was an undercover law enforcement agent), the court holds that the communications were obscene speech that is not protected by the First Amendment, that they are not protected by any other liberty interest, and that the unique nature of the offense of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman defined by Article 133 provides a “more exacting standard of conduct [that] can be traced back at least to the days of knighthood where knights were held to a higher standard of conduct than their fellow countrymen in the Court of Chivalry.” Slip op. at 13 (marks and citation omitted). Accordingly, CAAF affirms the two charges and seventeen specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, in violation of Article 133, and the sentence of confinement for 19 months and 15 days, total forfeitures, and a dismissal.
Judge Ryan writes for a unanimous court.
CAAF granted review of one issue:
Whether Appellant’s conviction for engaging in anonymous, private, and consensual communications with an unknown partner(s) in the privacy of his home was legally sufficient.
Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) Meakin was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of seventeen specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and sentenced to confinement for 20 months, total forfeitures, and a dismissal. The convening authority reduced the confinement by 15 days. Meakin’s convictions were based on his online chats with unidentified individuals about sexual fantasies involving children. Separate from his court-martial prosecution, Meakin also pleaded guilty in federal court to knowingly accessing child pornography.
Meakin argued at the court-martial that the charged violations of Article 133 must be dismissed because his communications were private and protected by the First Amendment, and Meakin renewed that argument on appeal before the Air Force CCA and at CAAF. It is thoroughly rejected.