CAAF’s decision in United States v. Fry, No. 11-0396/MC, 70 M.J. 465 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 21, 2012) (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), deals with the validity of an enlistment contract where the enlistee is subject to a state-court ordered limited conservatorship.

In a 3-2 decision, Judge Stucky, joined by Judge Ryan and Senior Judge Cox, rejects the appellant’s claim that California law regarding his capacity to contract is controlling, and the court adopts the position articulated by the government at oral argument that the constructive enlistment provisions of Article 2(c) apply to this case.

The opinion decides that “the only seriously contested issue here is whether Appellant was mentally competent, within the meaning of the statute.” Slip op. at 9. The court then reviews the basic question of jurisdiction de novo, but reviews the trial military judge’s determination that the Appellant was mentally competent as a finding of fact under the clearly erroneous standard. This review begins with the standard set forth in 10 U.S.C. § 504, proceeds though consideration of the evidence presented at the trial phase, and ends with this discussion:

Admittedly, the military judge may have overstated matters when he claimed that “all of the evidence” pointed in one direction. But when reviewed as a whole, the military judge’s ruling indicates that he considered contrary evidence and ultimately found in the face of conflicting views that the evidence better supported a finding that Appellant was mentally competent and acted voluntarily. The military judge’s findings that Appellant met the requirements for jurisdiction under Article 2(c) are fairly supported by the record and, thus, are not clearly erroneous.
Slip op. at 17.

In a dissenting opinion that illustrates the importance (especially for the trial counsel) of paying close attention to a trial military judge’s findings of fact and conclusions of law (and perhaps submitting proposed language), Chief Judge Baker, joined by Judge Erdmann, writes that the trial judge erred when he concluded that “all of the evidence” supports competency. The dissent also admonishes the trial judge for failing to “define the critical concept at issue in this case: What it means to ‘voluntarily enlist.’” Diss. op. at 2. These issues cause the Chief Judge to conclude that:

[W]e cannot know if the military judge reached the right decision regarding jurisdiction, because he did not reach it the right way — by stating the standard he was applying and then analyzing and weighing all the evidence before the court, including and in particular, the testimony and declaration of Appellant’s long-term treating psychologist in light of that standard.
Diss. op at 16.

Case links:
N-MCCA Opinion
Appellant’s brief
Appellee’s (government) brief
Appellant’s reply brief
Blog Post: Argument preview
Oral argument audio 
Blog Post: Argument recap
CAAF opinion
Blog Post: Opinion analysis

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