CAAFlog » September 2015 Term » United States v. Busch

CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. Busch, 75 M.J. 87, No.15-0477/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Friday, January 29, 2016. The court unanimously rejects the appellant’s ex post facto challenge to the military judge’s determination of the maximum authorized punishment for the offense of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012). However, the court narrowly affirms the military judge’s determination, the findings and the sentence, and the decision of the Air Force CCA.

Chief Judge Erdmann writes for the court, joined by Judge Ohlson and Judge Diaz (of the Fourth Circuit, sitting by designation). Judge Stucky dissents, joined by Judge Ryan.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

At the time of appellant’s alleged sexual abuse of a child offense, the President had not set the maximum punishment for the offense. The military judge used a later-enacted executive order to set the maximum punishment, even though it increased the confinement range from one year to fifteen years. Was the Ex Post Facto clause violated?

The appellant pleaded guilty to multiple offenses, including one specification of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012) for exposing his genitals and masturbating while the child watched via Skype. The appellant’s misconduct occurred in early 2013; after the 2012 statute’s effective date but before President Obama prescribed maximum punishments for the new offense in Executive Order 13643. The President’s failure to prescribe a maximum punishment forced the military judge to determine the maximum punishment for the appellant’s violation of Article 120b(c) by resorting to Rule for Courts-Martial 1003(c)(1)(B), which requires comparing the charged offense to other offenses listed in the Manual and in the United States Code. If a different offense listed in Part IV of the Manual is closely related to the charged offense, then R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B)(i) permits using the maximum punishment for that closely related offense. However, if no listed offense is closely related to the charged offense, then R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B)(ii) requires looking to offenses in the United States Code and the custom of the service.

Applying R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B)(i), the military judge concluded that the appellant’s offense of sexual abuse of a child was closely related to the offense of indecent liberty with a child in violation of Article 120(j) (2006), for which the maximum authorized punishment includes confinement for 15 years. The defense, however, argued that the offense of indecent exposure in violation of Article 120(n) (2006), with it’s one-year maximum authorized term of confinement, was more closely related. Despite this objection, the appellant still pleaded guilty. Including the computed 15-year maximum, the appellant faced a total maximum authorized confinement of 22 years and one month, and the military judge sentenced him to confinement for six years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

In determining that indecent liberty with a child in violation of Article 120(j) (2006) was closely related to the appellant’s offense of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012), the military judge made reference to Executive Order 13643. That reference prompted the appellant’s ex post facto claim, as he asserted that the military judge wrongly applied the executive order issued after his commission of the offense. CAAF unanimously rejects this claim.

However, the majority finds that the military judge was wrong to use R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B)(i), but finds that application of R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B)(ii) reaches the same result. The dissent, however, highlights a significant weakness in the majority’s analysis.

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

United States v. Busch, No.15-0477/AF (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Killion, No.15-0425/AF (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Busch, No.15-0477/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 7, 2015. The case questions the maximum authorized punishment for the offense of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012), with the following issue:

At the time of appellant’s alleged sexual abuse of a child offense, the President had not set the maximum punishment for the offense. The military judge used a later-enacted executive order to set the maximum punishment, even though it increased the confinement range from one year to fifteen years. Was the Ex Post Facto clause violated?

The appellant in Busch pleaded guilty to multiple offenses, including one specification of sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012) for exposing his genitals and masturbating while the child watched via Skype. He committed that offense on multiple occasions, and he pleaded guilty to doing so between on or about February 1, 2013, and on or about May 20, 2013. Of note, like the granted issue, the appellant’s brief repeatedly uses the word alleged to describe the appellant’s misconduct, even though the brief does not asserts that his plea was improvident or otherwise flawed, and it seeks only to reverse the sentence.

When the appellant pleaded guilty, the military judge informed him that the maximum punishment he faced included confinement for 22 years and 1 month. The appellant elected to proceed with his plea and was sentenced to confinement for six years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge. There was no pretrial agreement.

Of the 22 year and 1 month maximum confinement sentence calculated by the military judge, 15 years of that was for the appellant’s sexual abuse of a child. CAAF’s review focuses on how the military judge reached that determination, and whether it is correct.

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CAAF granted review in two cases yesterday. The first was previously certified to CAAF by the Judge Advocate General of the Coast Guard:

No. 15-0384/CG. U.S. v. Christopher S. Cooley. CCA 1389.  On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE GOVERNMENT VIOLATED APPELLANT’S RIGHTS UNDER ARTICLE 10, UCMJ, WHEN THE GOVERNMENT POSSESSED KEY EVIDENCE AGAINST APPELLANT ON JULY 20, 2012, AND FEBRUARY 5, 2013, YET MADE NO MOVE TO PROSECUTE APPELLANT FOR THESE OFFENSES UNTIL JUNE OF 2013, DESPITE HIS PRETRIAL CONFINEMENT FROM DECEMBER 20, 2012.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

I analyzed the CCA’s opinion in this January post titled The Coast Guard CCA raises Article 10 from the dead. I noted the JAG’s certification in this post. And in this post I noted Cooley in the context of CAAF’s grant of review in the Marine Corps case of United States v. Wilder, No. 15-0087/MC. In Wilder, CAAF will consider whether the substantial information rule persists after the promulgation of R.C.M. 707.

Between Cooley and Wilder, Article 10 might be dragged back from the afterlife next term…

The second grant involves application of the maximum sentence determination provisions of R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B):

No. 15-0477/AF. U.S. v. Nicholas E. Busch. CCA 38530. 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 hereby granted on the following issue:

AT THE TIME OF APPELLANT’S ALLEGED SEXUAL ABUSE OF A CHILD OFFENSE, THE PRESIDENT HAD NOT SET THE MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT FOR THE OFFENSE. THE MILITARY JUDGE USED A LATER-ENACTED EXECUTIVE ORDER TO SET THE MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT, EVEN THOUGH IT INCREASED THE CONFINEMENT RANGE FROM ONE YEAR TO FIFTEEN YEARS. WAS THE EX POST FACTO CLAUSE VIOLATED?

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

I discussed the AFCCA’s decision in this March post titled The Air Force CCA grapples with R.C.M. 1003(c)(1)(B).

In Article 56, Congress delegated to the President of the United States the authority to prescribe maximum punishments for offenses under the UCMJ. These maximums are contained in Part IV of the Manual for Courts-Martial. But it’s possible for an accused to be convicted of an offense that does not have a maximum punishment listed in Part IV, and Rule for Courts-Martial 1003(c)(1)(B) provides instructions for how to calculate the maximum punishment for such an offense.

Unlisted offenses are most common under Articles 133 and 134 (where novel charges are possible). But after Congress amended Article 120 effective June 28, 2012, President Obama failed to prescribe maximum punishments for the new offenses until May 15, 2013 (notably, to this day, he has still failed to prescribe model specifications).

That failure caused early problems, including leading one military judge to rule that the maximum punishment for sexual assault in violation of Article 120(b) (2012) is the jurisdictional limit of a summary court-martial (that ruling was reversed after the Government sought extraordinary relief). Other problems persist, in cases such as the recently-decided (but unpublished) United States v. Busch, No. 38530 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 11, 2015) (link to slip op.).

The appellant in Busch pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a child in violation of Article 120b(c) (2012), in connection with his online communications with a “15-year-old high school student from Florida he never met in person.” Slip op. at 2. Those communication occurred between “on or about 1 February 2013 and 20 May 2013,” slip op. at 1 n.1, raising the issue of the maximum authorized punishment for the offense.

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