An alert reader drew our attention to this docket page where the ongoing case of Marine Major Mark Thompson (CAAFlog news page), our #7 Military Justice Story of 2016, appears to be scheduled for disposition by guilty plea on Thursday.

This week at SCOTUS: I’m not aware of any military justice developments at the Supreme Court, where I’m tracking three cases:

This week at CAAF: The next scheduled oral arguments at CAAF are on April 25, 2017.

This week at the ACCA: The Army CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments. However, I’m aware of one oral argument scheduled for Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at 10 a.m.:

United States v. Kelly, No. 20150725

Issues:
I. Whether the military judge improperly instructed the members on the offense of abusive sexual contact by omitting the standard instructions on the prosecution’s burden and shifting the burden to the defense to prove appellant’s innocence.

II. Whether the military judge improperly instructed the members on the offense of sexual assault by omitting the standard instructions on the prosecution’s burden and shifting the burden to the defense to prove appellant’s innocence.

[III]. Whether the defense request for a mistrial should have been granted.

[IV]. Whether it was ineffective assistance of counsel for defense counsel to waive the causal challenge of the senior member by failing to use the defense peremptory challenge.

Disclosure: I represent the appellant in my civilian capacity. 

This week at the AFCCA: The next scheduled oral argument at the Air Force CCA is on April 18, 2017.

This week at the CGCCA: The Coast Guard CCA’s oral argument schedule shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the NMCCA: The next scheduled oral argument at the Navy-Marine Corps CCA is on May 2, 2017.

A gracious reader brought my attention to an article entitled The Silence Penalty, 103 Iowa L. Rev. ____ (forthcoming 2017), which is soon to be published by the University of Iowa College of Law, and which is authored by Professor Jeffrey Bellin of William & Mary Law School. Professor Bellin has examined data from actual criminal trials, as well as the results of a recent 400-person mock juror simulation, to conclude that an accused person who declines to take the stand in a jury trial suffers a conviction rate penalty that is about equal to having evidence of a prior conviction presented against them. In contrast, “for defendants without prior convictions, testifying coincided with an almost doubling of the chances of acquittal.” The Silence Penalty at 26.   Professor Bellin warns:

The surprising power of the silence penalty should give pause to the many defendants without a prior record who demand a trial but then decline to take the witness stand[.] . . . Declining to testify, [] puts them in the same position as a defendant with prior convictions. This is a major blow to acquittal prospects and one that (tactically speaking) should be avoided if at all possible.

Id. at 30. For defendants with prior convictions, the research found that the rate of conviction was about the same whether the accused testified or not.

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Audio of this week’s oral arguments before CAAF is available at the following links:

United States v. Mitchell, No. 17-0153/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Herrmann, No. 16-0599/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Herrmann, No. 16-0599/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, at 2:00 p.m., at the Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio. The court will review the legal sufficiency of the appellant’s conviction of reckless endangerment in violation of Article 134 for the pencil packing of parachutes, which is when a parachute is not properly packed or inspected but is fraudulently reported as being properly packed and inspected. It granted review of a single issue:

Whether the evidence is legally sufficient to find appellant committed reckless endangerment, which requires proof the conduct was likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.

Sergeant (E-5) Herrmann was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of willful dereliction in the performance of his duties in violation of Article 92, and of reckless endangerment in violation of Article 134. Herrmann was sentenced to confinement for 10 months, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a bad conduct discharge. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence in a published opinion. 75 M.J. 672.

The convictions were based on 14 parachutes that were pencil packed. Each of the parachutes had deficiencies deliberately introduced into their packing for training purposes, and Herrmann was the inspector responsible for ensuring that they were properly re-packed prior to being returned to service. The parachutes were, however, reserve type parachutes that would only be used if the jumper’s primary parachute failed somehow. None of the 14 parachutes was ever issued for a jump, nevertheless Herrmann was prosecuted for reckless endangerment based on the possibility of death that could have resulted had any been issued and then failed to work.

At trial Hermann’s defense focused on the speculative nature of any such harm, with his defense counsel arguing in closing that:

Everything they [the prosecutors] have produced is speculative, well, it could happen, but they have not produced any evidence that if those things failed – those deficiencies failed that this is a likely result.

App. Br. at 8. Hermann now takes that argument to CAAF.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Army case of United States v. Mitchell, No. 17-0153/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at at 12:30 p.m., at the Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, Indiana.

The case continues a prosecution appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling that suppressed the contents of Sergeant (E-5) Mitchell’s cell phone because military investigators continued to question him after he requested an attorney and that questioning led to Mitchell decrypting the device for the investigators. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the military judge’s suppression ruling, and the Judge Advocate General of the Army certified three issues to CAAF:

I. Whether the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause is violated when a suspect voluntarily unlocks his phone without giving his personal identification number to investigators.

II. Whether the Edwards rule is violated when investigators ask a suspect, who has requested counsel and returned to his place of duty, to unlock his phone incident to a valid search authorization.

III. Whether, assuming investigators violated appellant’s Fifth Amendment privilege or the Edwards rule, the military judge erred by suppressing the evidence.

Mitchell is charged with various offenses at a general court-martial. The bulk of the charges relate to allegations that Mitchell harassed his ex-wife. The search of Mitchell’s phone was based on a claim by his ex-wife that Mitchell contacted her using texting applications after he was issued a no-contact order. Mitchell was interrogated on this topic by military criminal investigators at a military police station where Mitchell invoked his right to counsel. Mitchell was then escorted back to his unit, but investigators immediately obtained a search authorization for the phone and Mitchell was brought to his company commander’s office where the investigators met him. There:

The investigators told Appellee [Mitchell] that they had a verbal search and seizure authorization for his electronic media. (JA 479). Appellee handed his iPhone 6 to the investigators. (JA 480). Investigator BT asked Appellee for his PIN, but Appellee refused to provide it. (JA 480). The military judge found as a fact that the investigators next said, ‘”[I]f you could unlock it, great, if you could help us out. But if you don’t, we’ll wait for a digital forensic expert to unlock it,’ or words to that effect.” (JA 480). Appellee refused to provide his PIN, but unlocked the phone and gave it back to the investigators. (JA 480).

Army App. Gov’t Div. Br. at 5. Mitchell’s brief, however, offers an additional fact:

According to SSG Vaughn, the investigators “badgered [SGT Mitchell]” multiple times until SGT Mitchell provided the passcode or unlocked his phone. (R. at 275).

App. Br. at 5.

The military judge concluded that the continued interrogation and Mitchell’s act of decrypting the phone violated Mitchell’s rights under the Fifth Amendment, and she applied Mil. R. Evid. 305(c)(2) to suppress the phone and its contents. The Army Appellate Government Division challenges that ruling and result with a broadside of complex and interwoven legal arguments that ultimately suggest that a suspect has no right to refuse to produce a decryption passcode. The Air Force Appellate Government Division supports the Army Division as amicus curiae. A pair of law professors also appear as amicus in support of the Government (by invitation of the court).

Mitchell responds to the various arguments advanced by the Government divisions, however his brief ultimately argues that the plain language of Mil. R. Evid. 305(c)(2) dictates the suppression of the phone in his case. That rule states:

(2) Fifth Amendment Right to Counsel. If a person suspected of an offense and subjected to custodial interrogation requests counsel, any statement made in the interrogation after such request, or evidence derived from the interrogation after such request, is inadmissible against the accused unless counsel was present for the interrogation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia support Mitchell as amicus curiae, arguing in part that “compelled decryption is inherently testimonial.” EFF Amicus Br. at 12. A law student (with professorial oversight) also appears as amicus for Mitchell.

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This week at SCOTUS: I’m not aware of any military justice developments at the Supreme Court, where I’m tracking three cases:

This week at CAAF: CAAF will hear oral argument in two cases this week. Both arguments will occur at law schools as part of Project Outreach:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at 12:30 p.m., at the Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, Indiana:

United States v. Mitchell, No. 17-0153/AR (CAAFlog case page)

Issues:
I. Whether the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause is violated when a suspect voluntarily unlocks his phone without giving his personal identification number to investigators.

II. Whether the Edwards rule is violated when investigators ask a suspect, who has requested counsel and returned to his place of duty, to unlock his phone incident to a valid search authorization.

III. Whether, assuming investigators violated appellant’s Fifth Amendment privilege or the Edwards rule, the military judge erred by suppressing the evidence.

Case Links:
ACCA opinion
Appellant’s (Army App. Gov’t Div.) brief
Appellee’s brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Amicus brief: Air Force App. Gov’t Div.
Amicus Brief:  Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of the District of Columbia
Amicus Brief: Two Notre Dame law professors
Amicus Brief: Notre Dame law student
Blog post: Argument preview

Wednesday, April 5, 2017, at 2:00 p.m., Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio:

United States v. Herrmann, No. 16-0599/AR (CAAFlog case page)

Issue: Whether the evidence is legally sufficient to find appellant committed reckless endangerment, which requires proof the conduct was likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.

Case Links:
ACCA opinion (75 M.J. 672)
Appellant’s brief
Appellee’s (Army App. Gov’t Div.) brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Amicus brief: Law student
Blog post: Argument preview

This week at the ACCA: The Army CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the AFCCA: The Air Force CCA will hear oral argument in one case this week, on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at noon:

United States v. Blatney, No. 2016-16

Issue: Whether the military judge erred by suppressing appellee’s act of unlocking his cellular phone as well as the con-tents of appellee’s phone pursuant to the Fifth Amendment.

This week at the CGCCA: The Coast Guard CCA’s oral argument schedule shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the NMCCA: The Navy-Marine Corps CCA will hear oral argument in two cases this week:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017, at 10 a.m.

United States v. Hale, No. 201600015

Case Summary:
A panel of officer and enlisted members sitting as a general court-martial convicted the appellant, contrary to his pleas, of one specification of failing to obey a lawful general order, one specification of wrongful use of an anabolic steroid, two specifications of rape, one specification of aggravated assault, one specification of adultery, one specification of kidnapping, and one specification of indecent language, in violation of Articles 92, 112a, 120, 128, and 134, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. §§ 892, 912a, 920, 928, and 934 (2012). The members sentenced the appellant to confinement for twenty-six years, reduction to pay grade E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority approved the sentence as adjudged and, except for the punitive discharge, ordered the sentence executed.

Issues:
I. Whether the military judge erred in admitting evidence obtained from the search of SSgt Hale’s gym bag as well as the results of the urinalysis test that was conducted pursuant to the fruits of that search?

II. Whether the government’s attempt to intimidate detailed defense counsel and its improper arguments at trial amounted to prosecutorial misconduct and prejudicial spillover effect during closing arguments?

III. Whether appellant received ineffective assistance from his defense counsel?

Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 2 p.m., at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, Founders Hall Auditorium, 3351 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22201:

United States v. Harris, No. 201600207

Case Summary:
A military judge sitting as a general court-martial convicted appellant, pursuant to his pleas, of attempted robbery, desertion, and aggravated arson, in violation of Articles 80, 85, and 126, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. §§ 880, 885, and 926 (2012). The military judge sentenced the appellant to eight years of confinement, reduction to pay-grade E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge. In accordance with a pretrial agreement, the convening authority suspended all confinement in excess of seventy-two months. The convening authority approved the remainder of the sentence and, except for the punitive discharge, ordered it executed.

Issue: Whether the military judge abused his discretion when he refused to order day-for-day confinement credit for the period that the government did not comply with R.C.M. 305(i)(2)(d).

In 2005, Congress appropriated funds – P.L. No. 109-108, 119 Stat. 2302 – and asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to execute certain tasks identified at page 46 of Senate Report No. 109-88. One of those tasks was to “disseminate best practices and guidelines concerning the collection and analysis of forensic evidence[.]” Id.

With that statutory mandate, in 2009, a NAS committee published a groundbreaking report entitled Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. That report was discussed at a Congressional hearing where it was said that the NAS had “found that many of the techniques and technologies used in forensic science lack rigorous scientific discipline.” Congress concurred with the report’s recommendation that “a new agency, separate from the legal and law enforcement communities, be created to provide oversight to correct these inconsistencies which impact the accuracy, reliability, and validity of forensic evidence.” Id.

Accordingly, the task of reforming the practice of forensic science in this country was entrusted to an agency of the Department of Commerce: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In turn, in 2015, NIST chartered the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science, which is a multi-disciplinary body made up of over 500 forensic science practitioners.  OSAC’s job is to facilitate the development of forensic science standards for the nation.

Towards that end, last month, one of OSAC’s committees, the Legal Resource Committee (LRC), issued a memorandum entitled Question on the Hypothesis Testing in ASTM 2926-13 and the legal principle that false convictions are worse than false acquittals. That document is published by the Harvard Law Review at 130 Harv. L. Rev. F. 137 (2017), and dives straight to the heart of how forensic evidence finds its way into American court-rooms. The LRC’s missive establishes that a forensic scientist does not have to adopt the conventions of the legal forum he or she serves.  Accordingly, when working on a criminal matter, the analyst does not have to presume innocence and does not have to use a beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof for their conclusions.

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On Tuesday CAAF granted review in the following Army case:

No. 17-0231/AR. U.S. v. Torrence A. Robinson. CCA 20140785. 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 issues raised by Appellant:

I. WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED BY FAILING TO ADMIT CONSTITUTIONALLY REQUIRED EVIDENCE UNDER MILITARY RULE OF EVIDENCE 412(b)(1)(C).

II. WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE COMMITTED PLAIN ERROR WHEN HE FAILED TO INSTRUCT THE PANEL ON THE MENS REA REQUIRED FOR THE SPECIFICATION OF CHARGE I, WHICH INVOLVED AN ARTICLE 92, UCMJ, VIOLATION OF ARMY REGULATION 600-20.

And the following issue specified by the Court:

III. WHETHER THE EVIDENCE WAS LEGALLY SUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH THAT APPELLANT KNEW OR REASONABLY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT SPC VM WAS TOO INTOXICATED TO CONSENT TO A SEXUAL ACT.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

I don’t see an opinion on the Army CCA’s website (meaning the case was summarily affirmed).

Mil. R. Evid. 412 is the military’s rape shield rule, and it prohibits admission of evidence “offered to prove that any alleged victim engaged in other sexual behavior” (Mil. R. Evid. 412(a)(1)) and evidence “offered to prove any alleged victim’s sexual predisposition” (Mil. R. Evid. 412(a)(2)). The rule does, however, contain exceptions, including for:

[E]vidence the exclusion of which would violate the constitutional rights of the accused.

Mil. R. Evid. 412(b)(1)(C). This exception is the one at issue in this case and it is notable for three reasons. First, there isn’t a bright-line where exclusion of evidence violates an accused’s constitutional rights. Second, the exception is still actually in the rule (while a similar exception in Mil. R. Evid. 513 was ordered removed by Congress in the FY15 NDAA and then was removed by Executive Order 13696). Finally, the exception conflicts with the rule’s procedural requirements in a way that CAAF found constitutionally-problematic in United States v. Gaddis, 70 M.J. 248 (C.A.A.F. 2011), but has not been fixed.

CAAF also docketed a writ-appeal in a Navy-Marine Corps case (no opinion is available on the CCA’s website):

No. 17-0315/AF [sic]. Jeremy E. Hassett v. United States. CCA 201600118. Notice is hereby given that a writ-appeal petition for review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals on application for extraordinary relief was filed under Rule 27(b) on this date.

In a published issued yesterday, in United States v. Dinger, __ M.J. __, No. 201600108 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 28, 2017) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA affirms a concept that I last noted here: Military retirement isn’t really retirement, it’s merely a change in duty status-

Notwithstanding Barker [v. Kansas, 503 U.S. 594, 605 (1992)] and its implications regarding the tax status of retired pay, we are firmly convinced that those in a retired status remain “members” of the land and Naval forces who may face court-martial. As the appellant was in a retired status during the offenses and the proceedings, he was validly subject to court-martial.

Slip op. at 8.

The appellant, Gunnery Sergeant Dinger, USMC (Ret.), pleaded guilty to two specifications of committing indecent acts, one specification of attempting to produce child pornography, two specifications of wrongfully making an indecent visual recording, and one specification of receiving, viewing, and possessing child pornography, in violation of Articles 80, 120, 120c, and 134, UCMJ.

All of the offenses were committed after Dinger entered a retired status following the completion of 20 years of enlisted service in the active component of the Marine Corps. The military judge sentenced Dinger to confinement for nine years and a dishonorable discharge, and the convening authority suspended all confinement in excess of 8 years in accordance with a pretrial agreement.

Writing for the panel Judge Rugh explains that:

By act of Congress, the appellant was subject to the UCMJ when he committed the offenses. Art. 2(a), UCMJ (“The following persons are subject to this chapter . . . . Retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay. . . . [and] Members of the Fleet Reserve and Fleet Marine Corps Reserve.”).

Slip op. at 4 (link to Article 2).

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

United States v. Morales, No. 39018: Oral argument audio.

United States v. Hudson, No. 37249 (rem): Oral argument audio.

CAAF granted review in three cases last week. All are from the Army:

No. 17-0187/AR. U.S. v. Brian G. Short. CCA 20150320. 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 GOVERNMENT COUNSEL COMMITTED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT WHEN THEY MADE IMPROPER ARGUMENT AFTER REPEATEDLY ELICITING INADMISSIBLE TESTIMONY.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The CCA’s opinion in Short is available here.

No. 17-0200/AR. U.S. v. Carlos A. Gonzalez-Gomez. CCA 20121100. 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 DILATORY POST-TRIAL PROCESSING VIOLATED APPELLANT’S DUE PROCESS RIGHTS AND WARRANTS RELIEF WHEN 782 DAYS ELAPSED BETWEEN DOCKETING AT THE ARMY COURT AND OPINION.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The CCA’s opinion in Gonzalez-Gomez is available here.

No. 17-0203/AR. U.S. v. David L. Jerkins. CCA 20140071. 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 HER DISCRETION BY ALLOWING A GENERAL OFFICER MEMORANDUM OF REPRIMAND INTO SENTENCING EVIDENCE WHERE THE REPRIMAND WAS ISSUED TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE COURT-MARTIAL AND CONTAINED HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL AND MISLEADING LANGUAGE.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.

The CCA’s opinion in Jerkins is available here.

CAAF also docketed a petition for a writ of prohibition in United States v. Katso (CAAFlog case page):

No. 17-0310/AF. Joshua Katso, Petitioner v. Christopher F. Burne, Lieutenant General, United States Air Force, in his official capacity as Judge Advocate General of the United States, and Katherine E. Oler, Colonel, United States Air Force, in her official capacity as Chief of the United States Air Force Government Trial and Appellate Counsel Division. CCA 38005. Notice is hereby given that a petition for extraordinary relief in the nature of a petition for writ of prohibition was filed under Rule 27(a) on this date.

Finally, CAAF docketed a writ petition in Bergdahl. As the seventh such petition by an increasingly desperate Bergdahl (whose trial is expected to occur this summer), its filing is just barely noteworthy.

This week at SCOTUS: The Court denied certiorari in Howell. The Solicitor General received an extension of time to respond to the cert. petition in Cox, et al. I’m not aware of any other military justice developments at the Supreme Court, where I’m tracking four cases:

This week at CAAF: The next scheduled oral argument at CAAF is on April 4, 2017, at the Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, Indiana. Additionally, on April 5, 2017, CAAF will hear oral argument at the Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio.

This week at the ACCA: The Army CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the AFCCA: The Air Force CCA will hear oral argument in two cases this week, both on March 28, 2017:

At 10 a.m.: United States v. Morales, No. 39018

Issue: WHETHER THE APPLICATION OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 13696 WHICH ELIMINATED THE CON-STITUTIONALLY REQUIRED EXCEPTION TO THE PSYCHOTHERAPIST-PATIENT PRIVILEGE WAS (1) AN ABUSE OF THE MILITARY JUDGE’S DISCRETION OR (2) DEPRIVED APPELLANT OF HIS RIGHT TO CONFRONT HIS ACCUSER, TO COMPULSORY PROCESS, OR TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW.

At 1 p.m.: United States v. Hudson, No.  37249 (rem)

Issues:
I. WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE IMPROPERLY ADMITTED EVIDENCE OF UNCHARGED ALLEGATIONS UNDER MILITARY RULES OF EVIDENCE 414 AND 404(B).

VI. WHETHER APPELLANT RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL WHEN HIS DEFENSE COUNSEL: (1) FAILED TO PRESENT EVIDENCE OF APPELLANT’S GOOD CHARACTER DURING THE DEFENSE CASE-IN-CHIEF; (2) FAILED TO PRESENT EVIDENCE OF THE CHARACTER FOR UNTRUTHFULNESS OF THE ALLEGED CHILD VICTIMS (CHARGED AND UNCHARGED), AND; (3) OPENED THE DOOR TO EVIDENCE OF THE PRIOR TRIAL.

Disclosure: I am civilian appellate defense counsel in Hudson.

This week at the CGCCA: The Coast Guard CCA’s oral argument schedule shows no scheduled oral arguments.

This week at the NMCCA: The next scheduled oral argument at the Navy-Marine Corps CCA is on April 5, 2017.

A gracious reader directed me to a recent article authored by Dr. Melissa Hamilton in the Boston College Law Review entitled Constitutional Law and the Role of Scientific Evidence: The Transformative Potential of Doe v. Snyder, 8 B.C.L. Rev. E. Supp. 34 (2017). In her article, Dr. Hamilton discusses the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s August 2016 decision in Does #1-5 v. Snyder, 834 F.3d 696 (6th Cir. 2016) (Justia). That decision is pertinent to military justice practitioners for a couple of reasons.

First, the Sixth Circuit held: “[w]e conclude that Michigan’s [Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA)] imposes punishment.” 843 F.3d at 705. This contrasts with CAAF’s 2014 decision in United States v. Talkington, 73 M.J. 212 (CAAFlog case page), where the Court opined that sex offender registration was “a penalty for committing a crime[,]” 73 M.J. at 215, but did not “constitute punishment for purposes of the criminal law[,]” 73 M.J. at 217.

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CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Sager, __ M.J. __, No. 16-0418/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on  Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Reviewing the text of Article 120(b)(2), as incorporated by Article 120(d), CAAF concludes that the language “asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware” creates three separate theories under which an accused may be convicted. The court reverses the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA that found that the language creates only a single theory of criminal liability, and remands the case for further consideration.

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

Aviation Ordnanceman Airman (E-3) Sager was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of one specification of abusive sexual contact in violation of Article 120(d) (2012). That statute criminalizes sexual contact in the same way that Article 120(b) criminalizes sexual acts. The Government charged Sager with two specifications, both related to a sexual encounter between Sager and his roommate. One specification alleged that the roommate was incapable of consenting due to intoxication, while the other alleged that the roommate was asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware. The members acquitted Sager outright of the specification implicating intoxication, but returned findings by exceptions to the specification implicating unawareness:

On appeal, Sager asserted that the specification was unconstitutionally vague because it failed to identify how the roommate was otherwise unaware, and also that the finding is factually and legally insufficient because the evidence indicated that the roommate was either asleep or unconscious. Sager’s argument was essentially that the statute’s enumeration of asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware creates three separate and distinct theories of criminal liability. The NMCCA, however, rejected this argument, concluding that:

asleep or unconscious are examples of how an individual may be “otherwise unaware” and are not alternate theories of criminal liability.

United States v. Sager, No. 201400356, slip op. at 7 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 29, 2015) (link to slip op.). From this conclusion the NMCCA then found that evidence of the roommate’s degree of intoxication or unconsciousness was relevant, and it affirmed the conviction. CAAF then granted review of two issues questioning both the meaning of the statute and the adequacy of the CCA’s review of the evidence:

I. In affirming the abusive sexual contact conviction, the lower court relied on facts of which the members acquitted appellant. Was this error?

II. Article 120(d), UCMJ, prohibits sexual contact on another person when that person is “asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware.” Despite these specific statutory terms, the lower court held that “asleep” and “unconscious” do not establish theories of criminal liability, but only the phrase “otherwise unaware” establishes criminal liability. Did the lower court err in its interpretation of Article 120(d), UCMJ?

In today’s opinion Chief Judge Erdmann and the majority answer the second issue in the affirmative, finding that the CCA erred in its statutory interpretation, but decline to answer the first issue, remanding it to the CCA for further review. Judge Stucky, however, would affirm the conviction.

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