Opinion Analysis: A Government Division concession doesn’t override waiver, in United States v. Smith
CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Smith, 78 M.J. 325, 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).
• 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