CAAFlog » September 2015 Term » United States v. Williams

CAAF decided the certified Air Force case of United States v. Williams, 75 M.J. 244, No. 16-0053/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.) on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Concluding that the Air Force Appellate Government Division’s successive motions for reconsideration by the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals did not toll the 60-day deadline in CAAF’s rules for the filing of a certificate for review, CAAF dismisses the certificate for review as untimely filed.

Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.

A general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation convicted Senior Airman Williams of rape, contrary to his pleas of not guilty. The approved sentence included confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. On appeal, however, the Air Force CCA reversed the conviction after finding that the military judge improperly admitted evidence of a prior alleged sexual offense under Military Rule of Evidence 413. The CCA’s issued its decision on June 19, 2015.

On July 20, 2015, the Government filed a motion for reconsideration with the CCA. That motion was denied four days later. The Government then filed a second motion for reconsideration on August 3, 2015, challenging the denial of the first motion and “asking the AFCCA ‘to reconsider … its order dated 24 July 2015.'” Slip op. at 2. The CCA denied the second motion on August 10, 2015. Almost two months after that – and 75 days after the first motion for reconsideration was denied – the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force certified the case to CAAF. Williams then moved to dismiss the certification on the basis that it was untimely.

Article 67 gives CAAF jurisdiction over three kinds of cases: Capital cases, cases that a Judge Advocate General orders sent to the court for review (known as certified cases), and cases in which the court grants review for good cause shown upon petition of the accused. Article 67 also sets a 60-day jurisdictional deadline for an accused’s petition for review, but no time limit for a JAG’s certification. However, CAAF’s rules (established pursuant to Article 144) set a 60-day non-jurisdictional deadline for certification by a JAG. Both the petition deadline and the certification deadline begin on the later of the date of the CCA’s decision or its action on a petition for reconsideration.

Writing for a unanimous court Judge Stucky finds that the Air Force JAG’s certification of Williams was untimely because the Government’s second reconsideration motion was not a petition for reconsideration of the substantive decision of the CCA, but rather was a petition for reconsideration of the CCA’s denial of the Government first request for reconsideration.

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

United States v. Caldwell, No. 16-0091/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Williams, No. 16-0053/AF (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

Three new – and particularly noteworthy – grants appear on CAAF’s docket.

First, an Army case challenges the use of charged offenses as admissible propensity evidence under Military Rule of Evidence 413. This issue was our #6 Military Justice Story of 2015:

No. 15-0767/AR. U.S. v. Kendell Hills. CCA 20130833. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ABUSED HIS DISCRETION BY GRANTING THE GOVERNMENT’S MOTION TO USE THE CHARGED SEXUAL MISCONDUCT FOR MILITARY RULE OF EVIDENCE 413 PURPOSES TO PROVE PROPENSITY TO COMMIT THE CHARGED SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s opinion in Hills is available here.

Next, in another Army case, CAAF specified an issue questioning the proper test for prejudice when evidence is admitted in violation of the statutory protections of Article 31(b):

No. 16-0019/AR. U.S. v. Asa M. Evans. CCA 20130647. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue specified by the Court:

WHERE THE ARMY COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS FOUND EVIDENCE WAS ADMITTED IN VIOLATION OF APPELLANT’S ARTICLE 31(b), UCMJ, RIGHTS, DID THE COURT ERR IN APPLYING THE KERR PREJUDICE TEST AS OPPOSED TO THE BRISBANE HARMLESS BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT TEST?

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The Army CCA’s opinion in Evans is available here.

Finally, CAAF ordered oral argument on a specified issue in an Air Force case that was certified to CAAF back in October (discussed here). The certified issue challenges the Air Force CCA’s conclusion that the military judge improperly admitted evidence under Mil. R. Evid. 413. The CCA issued its opinion on June 19, 2015, but the JAG did not certify the case until October 7; seemingly past the 60-day time period set for filing a certification in CAAF’s Rule 22(b)(3). However, the Government repeatedly sought reconsideration by the CCA during that time, ostensibly continuing the CCA’s jurisdiction over the case and extending the beginning of the 60-day time period. CAAF will now review that procedural tactic:

No. 16-0053/AF.U.S. v. Shelby L. Williams.CCA 38454.  On consideration of Appellee’s motion to dismiss the case because the certificate of review was not timely filed, and the government’s opposition thereto, it is ordered that the parties shall present oral argument on the following issue:

WHETHER THE UNITED STATES MAY FILE SUCCESSIVE MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION OF A DECISION OF THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS, AND THEREBY EFFECTIVELY EXTEND THE 60-DAY FILING DEADLINE FOR A CERTIFICATE OF REVIEW OF SUCH DECISION. SEE CAAF RULES OF PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE 19(b)(3); 22(b)(3); AND 34(a).

The date and time of oral argument will be provided to counsel in a separate order.

CAAF’s narrow reading of the jurisdiction of the CCAs was our #5 Military Justice Story of 2015.

Two new Air Force certified cases were docketed at CAAF on Wednesday. In the first case, the AFCCA found (link to slip op.) that the military judge improperly admitted evidence of a prior alleged sexual offense under Mil. R. Evid. 413:

No. 16-0053/AF. U.S. v. Shelby L. Williams. CCA 38454.  Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals was filed under Rule 22 on this date on the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE AIR FORCE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS ERRED BY FINDING THAT THE TRIAL DEFENSE COUNSEL SUFFICIENTLY OBJECTED TO THE ADMISSION OF THE EVIDENCE RELATING TO A PREGNANCY AND MISCARRIAGE.

II. WHETHER THE AIR FORCE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS ERRED BY FINDING THAT THE MILITARY JUDGE ABUSED HER DISCRETION WHEN SHE ADMITTED TESTIMONY PURSUANT TO MIL. R. EVID. 413, AND ERRED IN FINDING PREJUDICE.

III. WHETHER THE AIR FORCE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS COMMITTED A LEGAL ERROR BY DENYING THE UNITED STATES’ MOTION TO SUBMIT A DECLARATION FROM AN EXPERT WHO ADDRESSED THE MEDICAL CONCLUSIONS RAISED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE MAJORITY OPINION.

Appellant will file a brief under Rule 22(b) in support of said certificate on or before November 6, 2015.

In the second case, the AFCCA (link to slip op.) applied CAAF’s recent decision in United States v. Gutierrez, 74 M.J. 61 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 23, 2015) (CAAFlog case page), to reverse the HIV-positive appellant’s pleas of guilty to aggravated assault with a means likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm, finding insufficient evidence of a risk of transmission of HIV from the appellant to his sexual partners. However, the CCA affirmed other pleas of guilty, and reassessed the sentence, resulting in the dismissal of the assault charge and prompting the certification:

No. 16-0054/AF. U.S. v. Gavin B. Atchak. CCA 38526.  Notice is hereby given that a certificate for review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals was filed under Rule 22 on this date on the following issue:

WHETHER THE AIR FORCE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS ERRED IN SETTING ASIDE AND DISMISSING THE SPECIFICATIONS OF AGGRAVATED ASSAULT WITHOUT AUTHORIZING THE CONVENING AUTHORITY TO ORDER A REHEARING FOR THE LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSES OF ASSAULT CONSUMMATED BY A BATTERY.

Appellant will file a brief under Rule 22(b) in support of said certificate on or before November 6, 2015.

Additionally, CAAF granted review in a Marine Corps case involving human lie detector testimony, the admission of which the CCA found was obvious but harmless error:

No. 15-0754/MC. U.S. v. Beau T. Martin. CCA 201400315.  On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue specified by the Court:

WHETHER THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE HUMAN LIE DETECTOR TESTIMONY OFFERED BY THE ALLEGED VICTIM’S HUSBAND WAS NOT MATERIALLY PREJUDICIAL.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The NMCCA’s decision is available here.