CAAFlog » Argument Previews

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Avery, No. 19-0259/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, after the argument in Washington. The court granted review of a single issue involving the preemption doctrine:

Whether the specification of Charge II, alleging the communication of indecent language to a child in violation of Article 134, UCMJ, was preempted by Article 120b.

Specialist (E-4) Avery was convicted of communicating indecent language to a child under the age of 16, as an enumerated offense under Article 134. The President enumerates such offenses by exercising his Article 56 power to set maximum punishments. The enumerated offense of indecent language criminalizes oral and written communications – without regard to the age of the recipient or any criminal intent – that are indecent and either prejudicial to good order and discipline or of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces. The maximum punishment authorized by the President for any violation includes confinement for six months and a bad-conduct discharge, but if the recipient of the communication is a child under the age of 16 then the President authorizes a greater punishment including confinement for two years and a dishonorable discharge.

Prior to the revision of Article 120 that took effect in 2007, the UCMJ did not explicitly criminalize indecent language (including communicating indecent language to children). Rather, the communication of indecent language was punishable under Article 134, where the President had enumerated the offenses of indecent language (with anyone) and indecent acts or liberties (including language) with a child. See ¶¶ 87 and 89, Part IV, Manual for Courts-Martial (2005 ed.). The President had, in fact, criminalized a wide variety of sexual misconduct that was outside the scope of the then-narrow Article 120, and the Joint Service Committee opposed Congress’ rewrite of Article 120 on the basis that the enumeration of offenses under Article 134 made the rewrite unnecessary.

Nevertheless, in 2006 Congress rewrote Article 120, codifying numerous offenses formerly chargeable only under Article 134 including the offenses of indecent liberty with a child in Article 120(j) (2007) and of indecent act (including language) in Article 120(k) (2007). But Congress did not enact a specific prohibition on indecent language similar to the offense of indecent language (with anyone) enumerated by the President under Article 134. As a result, while some enumerated Article 134 offenses were deleted, the offense of indecent language remained.

Congress rewrote Article 120 a second time in 2011, creating the new offense of sexual abuse of a child in Article 120b(c) (and eliminating indecent liberty with a child under Article 120(j)), and eliminating the offense of indecent act under Article 120(k) (while creating more narrow offenses in Article 120c). Yet, again, the new offenses were not as broad as the Article 134 offense of indecent language, and so the Article 134 offense remained in the Manual. And it’s still there, at ¶ 105 of Part IV of the 2019 edition, with the same elements as it has had since before 2006:

(1) That the accused orally or in writing communicated to another person certain language;

(2) That such language was indecent; and

(3) That, under the circumstances, the conduct of the accused was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

A note explains that where the person to whom the language was communicated was a child under the age of 16, that additional element should be added (to justify a greater maximum authorized punishment).

Avery was charged with that offense for indecent Facebook communications with the twelve year old stepdaughter of another soldier. His defense did not object to the charge at trial, but on appeal he claims that when Congress enacted the offense of sexual abuse of a child (in Article 120b(c) (2012)), it intended that offense to apply to all indecent communications to children, thereby preempting application of the Article 134 offense of indecent language in situations involving children. His argument is bolstered by the fact that sexual abuse of a child requires a specific intent that is absent from the Article 134 offense of indecent language.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Washington, No. 19-0252/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review of a single issue involving testimony about the Army’s Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program.

Whether the military judge abused her discretion by permitting the unit’s SHARP representative to testify that “when a person says ‘no’ it means stop, walk away.”

Private (E-1) Washington was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation, of two specifications of abusive sexual contact in violation of Article 120 (2012). Both specifications arose from a single encounter and they were merged for sentencing. The panel sentenced Washington to confinement for 30 days and a bad-conduct discharge. The Army CCA summarily affirmed.

The case involves an encounter between Washington and a female junior enlisted soldier identified as PFC AF. One night, in PFC AF’s barracks room, in her bed, Washington and PFC AF had a sexual encounter that involved touching and kissing and that ended when a third soldier knocked on the door of the room. It was undisputed that part of the encounter was consensual, but the prosecution alleged that near the end of the encounter Washington disregarded requests by PFC AF that he stop touching her.

At trial, Washington’s defense counsel raised the issue of mistake of fact as to consent during its cross-examination of PFC AF. Mistake of fact as to consent is a well-recognized special defense (which is somewhat the same as an affirmative defense) to adult sexual offenses under the UCMJ because it does not not deny the objective acts constituting the offense, but instead denies criminal responsibility for those acts. Accordingly, in Washington, in addition to proving the elements of the offense (which appear to involve a bodily harm / nonconsensual sexual touching; none of the briefs identify the precise basis for the conviction), the prosecution also had to prove that Washington did not have an honest and reasonable belief that PFC AF consented to the touching.

To help it meet that burden, the prosecution presented the testimony of the SHARP representative – Sergeant First Class Rivera – who provided training about consent to Washington and his unit just one week before the alleged assault:

Sergeant First Class Rivera testified that appellant participated in a company-level training class on the issue of consent during the week preceding the assault. (JA 145–49). The direct, cross, and redirect examination of SFC Rivera occupies less than ten pages of the record. (JA 145–54). The training included a slide on the topic of withdrawn consent and guidance on what to do when a person says “no” during a sexual encounter. (JA 149). SFC Rivera testified about the slide, indicating that the takeaway was that when one party says “no,” it means the other should “stop, walk away.” (JA 149). Sergeant First Class Rivera was not asked for his opinion on the meaning of the words “no” or “stop,” whether the slide accurately reflected the state of the law, or to otherwise credit that slide or the SHARP program.

Gov’t Div. Br. at 7. Washington’s defense counsel objected to that testimony but the military judge overruled the objection, ruling that testimony about the training Washington received was relevant to the issue of Washington’s education (which is one of the factors to consider when determining if a mistake of fact existed) and that it was not unfairly prejudicial. Thereafter, the SHARP representative’s testimony was not a prominent part of the prosecution’s case, but the trial counsel did reference it in rebuttal closing argument as a basis to find no mistake of fact:

The defense . . . proffered a third possibility: that PFC AF did say stop but that PVT Washington mistakenly believed this was limited to precluding him from actually performing oral sex. (JA 178). In rebuttal, the prosecution admitted that PVT Washington may have honestly believed PFC AF consented to continued sexual contact but argued this belief was objectively unreasonable. (JA 182). In doing so, it suggested the members’ “number one” consideration should be that PVT Washington was “trained by his unit before the assault about the importance of consent, about the importance of listening to other people if they say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ or express discomfort in a sexual situation [and] he kept going.” (JA 182).

App. Br. at 12.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in two Army cases on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Both cases challenge the Army CCA’s reassessment of the sentence when the CCA also remanded to the convening authority with a rehearing authorized for convictions that were reversed.

First CAAF will hear argument in United States v. Wall, No. 19-0143/AR (CAAFlog case page), which presents two issues:

Granted issue: Whether after setting aside the sentence and ordering a remand, a service Court of Criminal Appeals is authorized to reassess the sentence and limit the lawful sentence the convening authority may approve.

Specified issue: Whether the granted issue is ripe for review at this time.

Then CAAF will hear oral argument in United States v. Gonzalez, No. 19-0297/AR (CAAFlog case page), which also presents two issues:

Granted issue: Whether the Army Court abused its discretion by reassessing the sentence after dismissing the most egregious specification, and offering the convening authority the option to approve an excessive sentence for the remaining specification in lieu of a rehearing.

Specified issue: Whether Appellant waived or forfeited his objection to the Army Court’s instructions to the convening authority.

The primary difference between the cases is their procedural posture. In Wall, the convening authority has not yet acted on the CCA’s decision, while in Gonzalez the convening authority has acted (and the CCA affirmed that action).

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Finch, No. 19-0298/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, after the argument in Easterly. The court granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred in admitting over defense objection the video-recorded interview of AH by CID because it was not a prior consistent statement under Mil.R.Evid. 801(d)(1)(B).

Specialist (E-4) Finch was convicted by a general court-martial, composed of a military judge alone, of violation of a general regulation, committing lewd acts upon a child, and three specifications of committing a sexual act upon a child, in violation of Articles 92 and 120b. He was sentenced to confinement for six years, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

Finch’s convictions largely hinged on the testimony of his stepdaughter – SH – who said that he sexually assaulted her on two occasions while they were camping. Her allegations were investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), and she gave CID a videotaped interview. That interview was admitted at trial, in its entirety, over defense objection, after the military judge ruled that it was a prior consistent statement under Mil. R. Evid. 801.

Military Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B) – which is identical to Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B) – provides situations where a prior consistent statement by a witness is not hearsay. If a witness testifies about something in court, the rule allows a consistent, prior (out-of-court) statement by that same witness to be admitted as proof of the truth of the things said on both occasions (as opposed to a more limited admissibility, such as merely to prove that a prior statement was made).

The rule has two parts: 801(d)(1)(B)(i) and (ii). The first part – 801(d)(1)(b)(i) – has long allowed a prior statement to be admitted as non-hearsay when the prior statement predates an allegedly recent fabrication or an allegedly improper motive or influence on the in-court testimony. CAAF has applied the first part on a number of occasions, including just last term in United States v. Frost, 79 M.J. 104 (C.A.AF. Jul. 30, 2019) (CAAFlog case page). That case also involved a prior statement by an alleged child victim of rape, and a majority of CAAF found that the statement was improperly admitted under Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B)(i) because it was made after the alleged improper influence (by the child’s mother). Because the statement did not pre-date the influence, it was not admissible as a prior consistent statement.

The federal rule was amended in 2014 (discussed here) to add the second part: 801(d)(1)(B)(ii). That new subsection makes any prior consistent statements of a witness admissible as non-hearsay so long as the prior statement is otherwise admissible for rehabilitation. The amendment was incorporated into the MCM in 2016 (noted here).

In Finch, the military judge did not state (and the parties at trial seemingly did not argue over) which part of Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B) applied to AH’s videotaped interview with CID. Reviewing the military judge’s ruling on appeal, a three-judge panel of the Army CCA found that the interview was admissible under both parts of the rule. In a published decision that includes a lengthy review of the requirements for admission of evidence under both parts of the rule, the CCA first held that the interview was admissible under 801(d)(1)(B)(i):

As the defense theory of the case was that AH had fabricated the claim of sexual assault, this line of attack clearly implied that AH had fabricated new facts after the CID interview.

Accordingly, we conclude that the defense cross-examination of AH opened the door for the government to introduce prior consistent statements to rebut the charge of recent fabrication.

United States v. Finch, 78 M.J. 781, 790 (A. Ct. Crim. App. 2019) (link to slip op.). Then it held that the statement was also admissible under 801(d)(1)(B)(ii):

the defense, at several instances, impeached AH’s testimony as being inconsistent with what she had told Agent JB from CID. . .

The net effect of this cross examination was to attack AH’s credibility by claiming that her testimony was materially different than what she had told Agent JB during an official interview. This attack allowed the government to rehabilitate AH’s credibility under the analysis in Adams and Part (ii) of Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B).

Id. at 790-791.

Both of those holdings are raised by the granted issue, but either one of them would allow CAAF to affirm the CCA’s decision and Finch’s convictions.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the certified Air Force case of United States v. Easterly, No. 19-0398/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The Air Force CCA ordered a sentence rehearing after finding plain error in the failure to instruct the members on the effect of a punitive discharge on a possible disability retirement, and the Judge Advocate General challenged that conclusion with a single issue:

Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals erred in finding that the military judge committed plain and prejudicial error by failing to instruct the panel sua sponte regarding the impact of a punitive discharge on Appellee’s potential permanent disability retirement where Appellee did not request such an instruction.

Senior Airman (E-4) Easterly, was convicted of attempted premeditated murder and sentenced to confinement for seven years, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. Prior to trial, Easterly was diagnosed with schizophrenia that was found to have been aggravated by his military service and warranted a medical retirement with a 100% disability rating. Those facts were presented during the sentencing phase of the court-martial, but the defense did not request an associated instruction to the members regarding retirement and the military judge did not give such an instruction. The prosecution, however, requested that the members be instructed to disregard any collateral consequences of the conviction, and the members were so instructed. Considering those facts, two out of three judges of a panel of the CCA found that it was plain error for the military judge to fail to give an instruction sua sponte, and the CCA set aside the sentence and authorized a sentence rehearing.

The Air Force Appellate Government Division challenges every aspect of that decision: It argues that there was no error because the record does not support the conclusion that Easterly would have been medically retired but for the punitive discharge; that any error is not plain because plain error under the circumstances requires that the defense actually request an instruction; that the defense had strategic reasons to not want an instruction; that giving an instruction in this case would have unduly interfered with the parties’ presentation of the case; and that any error is harmless because a punitive discharge was virtually certain.

Easterly responds by highlighting how the Government Division’s arguments obliterate the distinction between preserved and forfeited errors, are based on pure speculation of the motives of Easterly’s defense counsel, and misapply the prejudice prong of the plain error test.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Turner, No. 19-0158/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, after the argument in Davis. The court granted review of a single issue:

Whether the specification of Charge I alleging an attempted killing fails to state an offense because it does not explicitly, or by necessary implication, allege the attempted killing was unlawful.

Specialist (E-4) Turner was convicted of attempted murder (the specification at issue), conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, maiming, and obstruction of justice, and sentenced to confinement for life without the possibility of parole, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge. The Army CCA reversed the obstruction conviction (as factually insufficient) and conditionally dismissed the maiming charge, but affirmed the other findings and affirmed the sentence.

The specification of attempted murder alleged:

In that, Specialist Malcolm R. Turner, U.S. Army, did, at or near Clarksville, Tennessee, on or about 1 January 2015, attempt to kill with premeditation Specialist [C.SG.] by means of shooting her with a loaded firearm, causing grievous bodily injury.

App. Br. at 3 (quoting record) (emphasis omitted) (modification in original). Turner’s defense counsel objected to the specification at trial, asserting that the specification failed to actually state the offense of attempted murder because it did not allege that the attempted killing was unlawful (a necessary element of murder). The military judge overruled the objection and Turner renewed it on appeal, where the Army CCA held that the specification “alleges words of criminality sufficient to inform appellant that he was charged with the offense of attempted premeditated murder,” while observing that “not since the Civil War has Clarksville, Tennessee been close to a combat zone where appellant might claim that an attempted premeditated killing of a fellow American soldier could have been lawful.” United States v. Turner, No. 20160131, slip op. at 15-16 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 30, 2018). CAAF then granted review.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Davis, No. 19-0104/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, at 9 a.m. CAAF granted review of one issue after the Supreme Court decided United States v. Rehaif, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 2196 (2019), and held that the word knowingly in 18 U.S.C. §924(a)(2) – which states the punishment for unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of other statutes – applies to the material elements of the other statutes:

Whether the mens rea of “knowingly” applies to the consent element of Article 120c(a)(2), Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 920c(2) (2016).

Article 120c(a)(2) – which took effect in 2012 and is unchanged in its current form – prohibits indecent recording. Indecent recording occurs when a person:

Knowingly photographs, videotapes, films, or records by any means the private area of another person, without that other person’s consent and under circumstances in which that other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A reasonable expectation of privacy is defined as a reasonable belief that one’s naked or underwear-clad genitalia, anus, buttocks, or female areola or nipple would not be recorded or visible to the public. See Article 120c(d).

Private (E-2) Davis was convicted of indecent recording for making a video of part of a sexual encounter involving himself and two other soldiers. The video showed Davis having sexual intercourse with one of the soldiers (who later alleged that the encounter was a sexual assault; Davis was acquitted of charges related to that claim). The findings were made by a panel of officer members, and the military judge instructed the members that the offense has four elements, including that Davis knowingly recorded the alleged victim and that the recording was without the consent of the alleged victim. The military judge did not instruct the members that Davis must have known that the alleged victim did not consent to the recording, but did instruct them that it was a defense if Davis has a reasonable mistake of fact belief that she consented.

Mens rea was the #8 Military Justice Story of 2017 because of a series of CAAF decisions involving the mental state required to violate the UCMJ. Davis may be another in that series.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Muller, No. 19-0230/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, after the argument in Jessie. The court granted review of three issues involving the CCA’s review of a case that was returned to the convening authority because a prosecution exhibit was missing from the record of trial:

I. Whether rule 15.5 of the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals Rules of Practice and Procedure is invalid because it conflicts with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, this Court’s precedent, the Joint Courts of Criminal Appeals Rules of Practice and Procedure, the recently updated Joint Rules of Appellate Procedure, and the prior and current appellate rules of the other service Courts of Criminal Appeals.

II. Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals deprived Appellant of his due process right to raise issues on appeal when it denied his timely request to file a supplemental brief on issues arising during remand proceedings.

III. Whether a Court of Criminal Appeals must require certificates of correction to be accomplished, vice accepting documents via a motion to attach, when it finds a record of trial to be incomplete due to a missing exhibit.

Airman First Class (E-3) Muller pleaded guilty to three specifications of violating Article 112a, and was sentenced to confinement for nine months, reduction to E-1, and a bad-conduct discharge. The convening authority approved the sentence as adjudged, and Muller’s detailed appellate defense counsel submitted the case to the Air Force CCA without any assignments of error. The CCA, however, found a problem: prosecution exhibit 7 (an enlisted performance report) was missing from the record of trial. The CCA ordered the Government Division to show cause why the CCA should not return the record to the convening authority for correction, and the Government Division responded by offering a document (purporting to be the missing exhibit) for attachment to the record. The CCA rejected the document and ordered the record returned to the convening authority for correction.

After some delays, the convening authority ordered the military judge to complete a certificate of correction for the missing exhibit. A certificate of correction is a document used to correct a record of trial after authentication of the record by the military judge. See Article 54 (pre-2019); R.C.M. 1104(d), Manual for Courts-Martial (2016 ed.). The authentication process was changed to a certification process in the Military Justice Act of 2016 and the 2019 edition of the Manual for Courts-Martial. See Article 54 (2019); R.C.M. 1112(d), Manual for Courts-Martial (2019 ed.). The new process, however, retains the ability of a military judge to correct a record of trial.

The certificate of correction in Muller was completed and the record was returned to the CCA and the case re-docketed. At that point Muller’s appellate defense counsel sought to file a brief raising two assignments of error; one claiming unlawful command influence in the certificate of correction process and the other asserting unreasonable post-trial delay. The Air Force CCA rejected the brief and summarily affirmed the findings and sentence, and then it denied Muller’s request for reconsideration.

CAAF will review whether the CCA was wrong to reject Muller’s brief and – in an issue apparently raised by the Government Division and that CAAF granted review of without requiring certification by the Judge Advocate General – whether the CCA could have simply attached the missing exhibit to the record without returning it to the convening authority for correction.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Jessie, No. 19-0192/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review of three issues involving a policy (since rescinded) of the Joint Regional Confinement Facility (JRCF) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, whereby prisoners convicted of child sex offenses were prohibited from having any contact with children, including their own biological children:

I. Whether the Army court erred by considering military confinement policies but refusing to consider specific evidence of Appellant’s confinement conditions.

II. Whether the Army court conducted a valid Article 66 review when it failed to consider Appellant’s constitutional claims.

III. Whether Appellant’s constitutional rights were violated by a confinement facility policy that barred him from all forms of communication with his minor children without an individualized assessment demonstrating that an absolute bar was necessary.

Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) Jessie was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of members, of two specifications of sexual assault of a child in violation of Article 120b, and was sentenced to confinement for four years, a reprimand, and to be dismissed. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence in an unpublished en banc opinion, available here.

In that opinion, the CCA discussed Jessie’s complaint about a confinement policy that prohibited him from having any contact with children, including his own biological children. The CCA held that it could consider the complaint, but it declined to do so observing, in part:

[A]ppellant’s claim inevitably involves determining the outer limits of what is an acceptable prison policy for familial contact by convicted child sex offenders. That we might consider the claim does not mean we should. This is a claim we are poorly positioned to consider, and that within the structure of the military justice system is better entrusted to a determination by persons other than this Article I court.

United States v. Jessie, No. 20160187, slip op. at 10 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 28, 2018). CAAF then granted review.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Guardado, No. 19-0139/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, after the argument in Bess. The court will consider a ruling by the military judge that denied credit for punishment inherent in the loss of pay during the time before a retrial:

Whether the military judge abused his discretion by failing to grant Appellant Article 13, UCMJ, credit in consequence of the Howell v. United States, 75 M.J. 386 (C.A.A.F. 2016) violation present here.

Article 13 prohibits punishment before trial. Three years ago, in Howell v. United States, 75 M.J. 386 (C.A.A.F. 2016) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF addressed a situation where a military accused is convicted at a court-martial and reduced in rank, the conviction is reversed and a retrial planned, the accused is restored in rank, but the accused is not paid at the restored rate.  The situation was the result of interpretations of governing military pay law by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). A military judge held that paying Howell at the reduced rate prior to the retrial violated Article 13. CAAF agreed that Article 75(a) – which requires restoration of rights and privileges when a court-martial conviction or sentence is reversed – mandates that the accused be paid at the restored rate if the accused is restored to duty pending a rehearing. Nevertheless, CAAF found no violation of Article 13 because it concluded that the Government’s erroneous interpretation of Article 75(a) “was in furtherance of a legitimate, nonpunitive governmental objective to provide an accused pending rehearing with the proper pay entitlement as prescribed by Congress.” 75 M.J. at 394.

Guardado presents similar facts. Master Sergeant (E-8) Guardado was convicted of numerous offenses in 2014, and sentenced to confinement for eight years, total forfeitures, and reduction to the grade of E-1. CAAF reversed some of the convictions in 2017 and it set aside the sentence. United States v. Guardado, 77 M.J. 90 (C.A.A.F. 2017) (CAAFlog case page). On remand, in 2018, Guardado was acquitted of the the most serious offense (aggravated sexual contact with a child) and resentenced on the remaining convictions that CAAF affirmed: three specifications of indecent liberties with a child, one specification of battery of a child, one specification of indecent language, and one specification of indecent acts. The new sentence included confinement for 55 months, total forfeitures, and reduction to E-1.

Before Guardado was resentenced, however, he was released from confinement. During that period of release he was paid at the E-1 rate (imposed by the first court-martial) rather than the E-8 rate (his entitlement prior to the first court-martial). That’s the Howell violation referenced in the granted issue.

Guardado’s brief claims that the decision to pay him at the E-1 rate was “not in furtherance of a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objection because it is in defiance of this court’s clear and unambiguous ruling [in Howell].” App. Br. at 8. The Government Division’s response acknowledges that Howell interpreted Article 75 to require pay at the reinstated rate, but that the Government is entitled to rely on contrary rulings by the civil courts in military pay claims cases. Gov’t Div. Br. at 9.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Navy case of United States v. Bess, No. 19-0086/NA (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The court granted review of three issues involving the racial composition of the court-martial panel:

I. Whether the convening authority’s selection of members violated the equal protection requirements of the Fifth Amendment.

II. Whether the convening authority’s selection of members constituted unlawful command influence.

III. Whether the lower court erred in affirming the military judge’s denial of Appellant’s motion to produce evidence of the racial makeup of potential members.

Hospital Corpsman (E-5) Bess was convicted twice by court-martial for indecent acts involving him instructing female patients to be naked for x-ray examinations. CAAF reversed the results of first court-martial in 2016 because the military judge provided additional evidence to the members during deliberations without allowing the defense an opportunity to challenge the reliability of that evidence. United States v. Bess, 75 M.J. 70 (C.A.A.F. Jan. 6, 2016) (CAAFlog case page). Bess was retried later that year, and re-convicted of some of the specifications.

Both of Bess’ convictions were by panels of members, which are the military substitute for a jury. The members of a court-martial are selected by the convening authority based on criteria established by Congress in Article 25. Race is not one of those criteria. Nevertheless, the racial composition of the panel is at the heart of the issues before CAAF, and Bess – who is black – offers CAAF the following description of the beginning of his trial:

At the beginning of the trial, a white military judge, asked a white bailiff, to call in the all-white military venire panel. As the white defense attorneys and the white prosecutors stood at attention as the panel members filed in, it was difficult to reassure HM2 Bess as he leaned over to ask, “Why aren’t there any black people?” This all-white panel would hear evidence from the four complaining witnesses in the case—each of them white.

App. Br. at 6 (quoting record).

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Hennis, No. 17-0263/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. Hennis is a capital case, CAAF’s review is mandatory, and each side will get 60 minutes (three times the normal 20 minutes) to argue five issues:

I. Whether a break in Appellant’s service foreclosed the exercise of court-martial jurisdiction.

II. Whether the charges arose in the Armed Forces, and fell within the subject matter jurisdiction of a capital court-martial.

III. Whether the court-martial had personal jurisdiction over Appellant.

IV. Whether the military judge denied appellant a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.

V. Whether the military judge abused his discretion in restricting defense counsel’s voir dire and in denying defense challenges for cause.

The court-martial conviction and sentencing of Master Sergeant (E-8) Hennis, U.S. Army (Retired) was our #2 military justice story of 2010. That year a general court-martial convicted him of three specifications of premeditated murder and sentenced him to death. The case involved the gruesome rape and murder of Kathryn Eastburn, the wife of an Air Force captain who was out of town on temporary duty, and also the murder of the Eastburn’s two daughters, all of which occurred 25 years earlier, in 1985.

Hennis was tried three times for those crimes: twice by North Carolina and then finally by a court-martial. The first trial resulted in a conviction and death sentence, but it was reversed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1988. A retrial resulted in an acquittal in 1989 and Hennis was reinstated in the Army and eventually transferred to the retired list where – like every other regular retiree – Hennis remained subject to the UCMJ. But advances in DNA allowed investigators to determine that sperm found in the body of the murdered woman came from Hennis, and he was recalled to active duty in 2006, tried by court-martial for the murders, convicted, and again sentenced to death. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence in 2016 (discussed here), 75 M.J. 796.

Hennis’ brief to CAAF raises 40 issues, and the five to be argued next were all raised before and rejected by the Army CCA. Broadly, the issues fall into two categories: challenges to the existence of court-martial jurisdiction over Hennis at the time of his court-martial, and challenges to rulings by the military judge.

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CAAF will hear the first oral argument of the October 2019 Term in United States v. Rice, No. 19-0178/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, October 16, 2019, at noon, at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The court will review the Army CCA’s published decision that found a double jeopardy violation but did not give any remedy, with a single granted issue:

Whether the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment requires dismissal of Appellant’s convictions.

Colonel (O-6) Rice wrongfully possessed and distributed child pornography. The evidence of his crimes was strong; his wife discovered the materials and reported them to the police. He was eventually prosecuted in both federal court and at a court-martial for reasons that remain unexplained but that the Army CCA described as a “debacle which we are now compelled to review.” United States v. Rice, 78 M.J. 649, 651 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 18, 2018).

Rice’s misconduct was discovered in 2013. In 2014, he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, one alleging possession of child pornography and the other alleging receipt or distribution of child pornography. In 2015 – while the federal charges were proceeding to trial – charges based on the same misconduct were referred for trial by general court-martial, including three specifications of service discrediting conduct in violation of Article 134 (clause 2) for possessing and distributing child pornography.

After a jury trial, Rice was convicted of both civil offenses on May 6, 2016, but sentencing was deferred. Rice then moved to dismiss the court-martial charges on the basis of double jeopardy, arguing that they were a successive prosecution of one of the two civil offenses. The military judge denied the motion, and Rice entered conditional pleas of guilty (preserving his double jeopardy objection) on October 24, 2016, and was sentenced to confinement for five years and a dismissal. Rice then returned to District Court for sentencing on the federal civil offenses, where he also made a double jeopardy claim. The District Court agreed that the double jeopardy clause was violated and it dismissed the possession conviction on that basis. It did not dismiss the receipt/distribution conviction, and for that offense Rice was sentenced to imprisonment for 142 months (11 years, 10 months).

Rice renewed his double jeopardy objection to the court-martial prosecution on appeal, and the Army CCA agreed that a double jeopardy violation occurred. Specifically, the CCA concluded that Rice’s possession conviction in the District Court was legally duplicative of his court-martial convictions because his possession conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A “necessarily proved every element of being a crime not capital under clause three of Article 134, UCMJ.” 78 M.J. at 654. Yet that conclusion turned on the CCA’s interpretation of the three separate clauses of Article 134 as constituting a single (and singularly broad) offense:

the government may not obtain two convictions at the same court-martial on two specifications that are identical save for what clause of Article 134 is alleged. An accused may be convicted only once for possessing child pornography under clauses one, two, or three for the same conduct. . . .

Clause three of Article 134 incorporates the entire federal criminal code. The three clauses of Article 134 are disjunctive, and therefore it does not matter for Blockburger purposes which terminal elements are alleged because all three may be alleged and only one need be proven in any given specification. See Williams, 78 M.J. at 546-47. Thus, under the unique circumstances of appellant’s two prosecutions, the elements of his District Court conviction for possession of child pornography were duplicated in each of his court-martial convictions for possession of child pornography. The government placed appellant in jeopardy twice.

78 M.J. at 654. Nevertheless, despite finding a double jeopardy violation the CCA granted Rice no relief on the basis that doing so would be an undeserved windfall:

appellant sought and received dismissal of the District Court possession count that caused a double jeopardy violation. Appellant’s motion to the District Court was predicated on the court’s inability to render a lawful sentence. Appellant, however, went beyond asking merely that no sentence be imposed, and sought dismissal of the possession count entirely. Once appellant secured dismissal of the possession count on grounds unrelated to his factual guilt or innocence, the United States was free to pursue other charges based on the same course of conduct.

Thus, while we agree appellant was subjected to jeopardy twice, we conclude he has already received his remedy and is not entitled to what the Supreme Court has described as an “unjustified windfall[].”

78 M.J. at 656 (citations omitted).

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Voorhees, No. 18-0372/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, after the argument in Tovarchavez. Three granted issues question the mens rea necessary to commit conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman and the propriety of numerous aspects of the prosecution’s closing argument:

I. Whether the AFCCA erred in finding no plain error despite trial counsel’s argument on findings that personally attacked appellant and trial defense counsel, commented on Appellant’s silence, expressed his personal opinions, bolstered his own credibility, vouched for government witnesses, speculated, and made reference to facts not in evidence.

II. Whether the AFCCA erred in finding that the specifications alleging violations of Article 133, UCMJ, stated an offense despite the fact that they lack words of criminality or a mens rea.

III. Whether plain error occurred when the military judge failed to instruct the members that mens rea was an element of an offense under Article 133.

Major (O-4) Voorhees was convicted by a general court-martial composed of members of one specification of sexual assault and five specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, in violation of Articles 120 and 133. The conduct unbecoming specifications alleged that Voorhees had inappropriate communications with three women (four specifications) and that he massaged the back of one of them (an enlisted Airman). The sexual assault conviction involved intercourse with one of the women, but was reversed by the Air Force CCA as factually insufficient in 2016. The CCA ordered a sentence rehearing, and Voorhees was sentenced to a reprimand and to be dismissed. The CCA affirmed the revised sentence last year.

On appeal, Voorhees challenged the sufficiency of the Article 133 specifications to state an offense and also the prosecution’s closing argument as improper. The CCA rejected the challenges in its 2016 opinion, and CAAF is now reviewing that decision.

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CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Tovarchavez, No. 18-0371/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. A single granted issue challenges the standard applied by the Army CCA when it affirmed a sexual assault conviction after concluding that the improper use of charged offenses for propensity purposes – a constitutional error identified by CAAF in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 27, 2016) (CAAFlog case page) – was harmless but not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt:

Whether the Army Court erred, first, in finding that this Court overruled sub silencio the Supreme Court holding in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967), and this Court’s own holdings in United States v. Wolford, 62 M.J. 418, 420 (C.A.A.F. 2006), and in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350, 357 (C.A.A.F. 2016), and, consequently, in testing for prejudice in this case using the standard for nonconstitutional error.

Specialist (E-4) Tovarchavez was charged with sexually assaulting another soldier on two occasions. The military judge instructed the members that they could use the charged offenses as evidence of Tovarchavez’s propensity to commit the charged offenses (the Hills error), and the defense did not object. Tovarchavez was then convicted of one of the two charged offenses and sentenced to confinement for two years, reduction to E-1, total forfeitures, and a dishonorable discharge.

The Army CCA issued two opinions in this case. The first (available here) was issued on September 7, 2017, and found the Hills error to be harmless. But the CCA also ordered a DuBay hearing to consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. After the DuBay hearing, the CCA issued a second opinion (available here) that reconsidered the Hills error, leading to CAAF’s grant.

Because Tovarchavez’s defense counsel didn’t object (and, in fact, affirmatively stated that the defense had no objection) to the improper propensity instruction, the error was forfeited and the plain error test applies. The plain error test penalizes the failure to object by shifting the burden on appeal to the appellant, forcing him to show that there (1) was an error, (2) that is plain or obvious, and (3) that caused material prejudice to a substantial right. But the requirement of material prejudice to a substantial right is not unique to the plain error test in military law; Article 59(a) states that:

A finding or sentence of a court-martial may not be held incorrect on the ground of an error of law unless the error materially prejudices the substantial rights of the accused.

Put differently, if a legal error is harmless then a court-martial conviction may not be reversed. How harmless, however, depends on the error. For an ordinary error, mere harmlessness is enough; the error is not prejudicial (and the conviction may not be reversed) “if the factfinder was not influenced by it, or if the error had only a slight effect on the resolution of the issues of the case.” United States v. Muirhead, 51 M.J. 94, 97 (C.A.A.F. 1999). But if the error affects a constitutional right, then a heightened standard applies; the error is prejudicial unless it is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. And “an error is not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt when there is a reasonable possibility that the error complained of might have contributed to the conviction.” Hills, 75 M.J. at 357-58 (marks and citations omitted).

A Hills error is constitutional error. Nevertheless, in the CCA’s second opinion in Tovarchavez, a two-judge majority of a three-judge panel of the Army CCA applied the lower standard of mere harmlessness (and not the higher standard of harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt) to that error, in part because the error was forfeited by the failure to object at trial. The majority found the error harmless and affirmed the conviction, but it also explained that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the outcome of the case hinges on which standard of harmlessness applies.

Tovarchavez’s brief presents two simple propositions: “the Supreme Court[‘s] decision in Chapman v. California . . . established harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as the test for prejudice when constitutional error was not preserved at trial,” and “the Supreme Court also forbade lower courts from departing from the test announced in Chapman in favor of a competing definition of harmless error.” App. Br. at 7. Accordingly, argues Tovarchavez, the applicable standard for harmlessness is harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt and only the Supreme Court can change that.

The Government Divison’s brief asserts that the law is not so clear.

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