In a published opinion in United States v. Catano, No. 2015-04, __ M.J. __ (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 14, 2015) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Air Force CCA denies a Government appeal of a military judge’s ruling that suppressed the accused’s statements to his first sergeant, additional statements made at a hospital, and the results of a probable cause urinalysis, because of the provisions of Air Force Instruction 44-121 that provide protections for an Airman who “voluntarily disclose[s] evidence of personal drug use or possession to the unit commander, first sergeant, substance use/misuse evaluator, or a military medical professional.” The accused in Catano made statement that included the admission: “I’m addicted to heroin.” Slip op. at 7.
The CCA finds that the military judge did not abuse her discretion in suppressing the evidence based upon the protections of AFI 44-121. Notably, the CCA’s decision includes consideration of the fact that after the military judge issued her initial ruling and the prosecution gave notice of its intent to appeal, the military judge:
issued a 6-page supplemental ruling that incorporated the entirety of her original ruling and added several findings of fact and conclusions of law. Her ultimate conclusion was unchanged.
Slip op. at 2. The Government asked the CCA to strike the supplemental ruling, asserting that “the automatic stay provision related to government appeals divested the military judge of jurisdiction over the court-martial once the notice of appeal was filed.” Slip op. at 2. But the CCA denied the motion and in its opinion it finds that a “military trial judge may sua sponte reconsider a ruling or order after notice of an Article 62, UCMJ, appeal and before the record of proceedings is authenticated.” Slip op. at 5.
Notably, in reaching this conclusion, the CCA describes the Government’s position in very harsh terms:
The Government expresses concern that the military judge amended her initial ruling in an effort “to strengthen her ruling with additional facts and analysis so that she would not be overturned.” Whether the changes found in the supplemental ruling favor the Government or Appellee is not the measure by which we determine the authority of the military judge to reconsider a prior ruling. We doubt the Government would object if the military judge had reconsidered her ruling and ruled in favor of the Government.
Slip op. at 6 (emphasis added).