CAAFlog » Court-Martial News » CPO Begani

On Friday the en banc Navy-Marine Corps CCA issued this opinion on reconsideration in United States v. Begani, __ M.J. __, No. 201800082, splitting 4-3 to affirm the validity of Articles 2(a)(4) and 2(a)(6), which apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired members of the regular components and to members of the Fleet Reserve (Navy) and Fleet Marine Corps Reserve.

The decision is a dramatic (but not unexpected) reversal of the decision of a three-judge panel of the court issued back in July and discussed here. If you’re not familiar with this case then you should probably read that post before continuing.

The panel had held that Articles 2(a)(4) and 2(a)(6) violate the Due Process Clause’s guaranty of equal protection of the laws because they do not also apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired reservists. I wrote in this second post that the panel’s decision was fundamentally flawed because the panel overlooked the fact that reserve retirees need not have any current connection to the service to receive their reserve retired pay. Citing numerous statutes, regulations, and court decisions, I explained that reserve retired service and reserve retired pay are mutually exclusive statuses, while regular retired pay is a direct consequence of regular retired service. That is a significant distinction between reserve and regular retirees that eliminates any equal protection argument (and if you’re not familiar with reserve retirement then you should also read that second post before continuing).

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Audio of the recent oral argument at the Navy-Marine Corps CCA in United States v. Begani, No. 201800082 (reconsideration) is available on the CCA’s website (here) and on our oral argument audio podcast.

Prior coverage:
Oral argument audio
NMCCA opinion (withdrawn)
Blog post: The NMCCA torpedoes Article 2
Blog post: The fundamental flaw in the NMCCA’s decision in Begani
Blog post: NMCCA withdraws opinion, grants reconsideration
Oral argument audio (reconsideration)

Last month – in advance of the NMCCA withdrawing its opinion in United States v. Begani, No. 201800082 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 31, 2019) (decision analyzed here and here) – the Air Force CCA issued a published decision in United States v. Ballard, 79 M.J. 675, No. 39440 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 30, 2019) (link to slip op.), in which the CCA rejected a constitutional challenge to court-martial jurisdiction over retired members. Writing for a three-judge panel of the CCA, Judge Lewis explained:

We conclude Appellant was undoubtedly a retired member of the regular Air Force entitled to retired pay at the time he was recalled to active duty for purposes of facing a court-martial. He committed all of the offenses to which he pleaded guilty while on active duty. We note our superior court has repeatedly upheld the exercise of court-martial jurisdiction in the face of challenges similar to one Appellant makes in this case. See, e.g., United States v. Sloan, 35 M.J. 4, 7 (C.M.A. 1992), overruled on other grounds by United States v. Dinger, 77 M.J. 447, 453 (C.A.A.F. 2018); Pearson v. Bloss, 28 M.J. 376, 378–80 (C.M.A. 1989); United States v. Hooper, 26 C.M.R. 417, 421–25 (C.M.A. 1958). We find the Congress acted well within the authority entrusted to them by the Constitution’s Make Rules Clause when they permitted court-martial jurisdiction of retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay in Article 2(a)(4).

Slip op. at 7-8.

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On July 31, a three-judge panel of the NMCCA issued an astonishing opinion in United States v. Begani, No. 201800082 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 31, 2019) (link to slip op.), concluding that Articles 2(a)(4) and 2(a)(6) of the UCMJ – which apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired members of the regular components – violates the Due Process Clause’s guaranty of equal protection of the laws because it does not also apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired reservists.

I analyzed the decision in a pair of posts here and here, the latter of which called the opinion fundamentally flawed because reserve (non-regular) retirement is a pension while regular retirement is very much not; a significant distinction between reserve and regular retirees that justifies their different treatment under the UCMJ.

In this order issued last week, the NMCCA withdrew the opinion and announced en banc reconsideration:

Upon consideration of Appellee’s Motion for Reconsideration and Suggestion for En Banc Consideration, filed on 4 September 2019, it is, by the Court, this 1st day of October 2019,
ORDERED:

1. That the Motion is GRANTED. The Court En Banc will consider the case.

2. That the Court’s 31 July 2019 decision is hereby WITHDRAWN.

3. That no briefs or arguments will be accepted unless required by further order of the Court.

On Tuesday, in this post, I analyzed the NMCCA’s astonishing opinion in United States v. Begani, 79 M.J. 620, No. 201800082 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 31, 2019), in which a three-judge panel of the court held that Articles 2(a)(4) and 2(a)(6) of the UCMJ – which apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired members of the regular components – violates the Due Process Clause’s guaranty of equal protection of the laws because the UCMJ does not also apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired reservists.

The most important holding in Begani is about three classes of retirees in the Navy and Marine Corps: (1) regular enlisted members in the Fleet Reserve receiving retainer pay (like Begani), (2) regular members on the retired list receiving retired pay, and (3) people receiving reserve (also known as non-regular) retired pay (the CCA did not address disability retirees).

The CCA held that people in those three categories “are similarly situated for purposes of equal protection analysis.” Slip op. at 8. That holding made possible the subsequent equal protection analysis (that found Article 2 unconstitutional). Without that holding, the rest of the opinion collapses.

The holding is based on similarities between the three categories of retirees:

The members of all three groups are in an inactive status and no longer perform any uniformed military duties. They are all subject to recall to active duty. They are ineligible for further promotion. They are entitled to retired pay at some point in their retired years. . . . For all of them, once they are entitled to retired pay, the pay continues for the duration of their lives and increases according to a cost of living formula. Their retired pay is not contingent on their continued military usefulness. Their actual ability to contribute to the accomplishment of a military mission is completely irrelevant.

Slip op. at 6.

The CCA analyzed “each group’s current degree of connectedness to the armed forces—not to past connections.” Slip op. at 6 (emphases in original). In analyzing how each group is currently connected to the armed forces, the CCA considered “the official Department of Defense (DoD) policy on the utilization of retirees.” Slip op. at 6. That policy includes an instruction that “makes no distinction between retired members of the regular and reserve components,” and that “does not mention active or reserve component status as a criterion for mobilization.” Slip op. at 6-7 (quoting DODI 1352.01 in footnotes). The CCA also considered the fact that “retired members of both the active and reserve components are similarly—though not identically—subject to involuntary recall to active duty.” Slip op. at 7. Because all three categories of retirees are still members of the armed forces, and because the DoD treats all three categories roughly equally, the CCA held that they are similarly situated.

That holding is fundamentally flawed because (unlike regular retirees) reserve retirees need not have any current connection to the service to receive their reserve retired pay. Reserve retired service and reserve retired pay are mutually exclusive. Regular retired pay, however, requires regular retired service. Put differently, while regular retirees must actually be in the military to receive regular retired pay, reserve retirees need not be in the military to receive their reserve retired pay (nor does continued service in the retired reserve create an entitlement to reserve retired pay). That’s an enormous difference in situation.

The bottom line is found in the wording of the statute that creates reserve retired pay, 10 U.S.C. § 12731 (“person”; “entitled”; and no mention of the retired reserve), and in paragraph 060401, Volume 7B, DoD 7000.14-R (the DoD FMR), which states:

Retired pay benefits authorized for non-regular members of the uniformed services in 10 U.S.C., Chapter 1223 are viewed as a pension and entitlement to retired pay under 10 U.S.C. § 12731 is not dependent on the continuation of military status.

(emphasis added). In other words, reserve (non-regular) retirement is a pension while regular retirement is very much not; a significant distinction between reserve and regular retirees.

Analysis follows after the jump.

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Court-martial jurisdiction for retired members is a big topic in military justice. For instance, it was the #1 Military Justice Story of 2017 and the #6 Military Justice Story of 2018.

Now, with an astonishing opinion in United States v. Begani, 79 M.J. 620, No. 201800082 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Jul 31, 2019) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals holds that Articles 2(a)(4) and 2(a)(6) of the UCMJ – which apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired members of the regular components – violates the Due Process Clause’s guaranty of equal protection of the laws because they do not also apply court-martial jurisdiction to retired reservists.

Chief Judge Crisfield writes for the court, joined by Senior Judges Fulton and Hitesman.

In June 2017, Chief Petty Officer Begani, U.S. Navy, completed 24 years of active duty service and transferred to the Fleet Reserve. The Fleet Reserve (and the associated Fleet Marine Corps Reserve) is not regular retirement, but rather is an intermediate status for enlisted members in the Department of the Navy who have completed at least 20 but less than 30 years of service (because enlisted members are not actually entitled to retirement until they complete 30 years of service; compare, for example, 10 U.S.C. § 7314 (may be retired upon request after 20 years) with 10 U.S.C. § 7317 (shall be retired upon request after 30 years)). While in the Fleet Reserve, Begani received retainer pay and was subject to court-martial under Article 2(a)(6).

36 days after his transfer to the Fleet Reserve, Begani was apprehended by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents when he went to an on-base residence on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan (Begani’s duty station at the time of his transfer). Begani was there for a sexual encounter with someone he believed was a 15-year-old female, but was actually an undercover NCIS agent. As a result, Begani eventually pleaded guilty at a general court-martial to one specification of attempted sexual assault of a child and two specifications of attempted sexual abuse of a child, in violation of Articles 80 and 120b. The approved sentence was confinement for 18 months and a bad-conduct discharge.

Begani did not challenge jurisdiction at trial, but he did challenge it on appeal, arguing “that the UCMJ’s jurisdictional scheme, whereby he, as a retired regular component member, is subject to the UCMJ, while retired Navy Reserve members are not, violates the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.” Slip op. at 3. Begani’s argument turned on the claim that members of the Fleet Reserve (and Fleet Marine Corps Reserve) receiving retainer pay (like him), regular retirees, and reserve retirees, are all similarly situated.

The CCA agrees that those three disparate categories are indeed similarly situated:

There is little case law to guide our determination of whether these two groups of retirees are “similarly situated” for equal protection purposes. We nonetheless feel confident determining that members of the Fleet Reserve, regular component retirees, and reserve component retirees are similarly situated because there is no meaningful distinction, legally or factually, between the groups that is relevant to good order and discipline in the armed forces.

Slip op. 5. It then finds that Article 2 – which Congress recently amended

is not narrowly tailored to the achievement of a compelling government interest. Instead, it appears that Article 2’s retiree jurisdiction structure is an anachronistic vestige of Congress’ effort to create a uniform code of military justice for military services that traditionally had different administrative needs. Article 2’s retiree jurisdiction rules reflect an administrative compromise that has outlived its necessity and is not tailored to current governmental interests.

It is clear to us that Congress could lawfully subject all retirees of the armed forces to UCMJ jurisdiction. Conversely, it could subject no retirees of the armed forces to jurisdiction. It could also narrowly tailor retiree jurisdiction in such a way to satisfy the compelling interest in maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces. Article 2 as structured, however, is not narrowly tailored to that interest. Accordingly, we find that the UCMJ’s jurisdictional structure for retirees violates the right of equal protection imputed to the Fifth Amendment.

Slip op. at 16 (emphases omitted).

The decision is a radical departure from everyone’s jurisprudence involving retiree jurisdiction, least of all the NMCCA’s own jurisprudence. For instance, just two years ago, in United States v. Dinger, 76 M.J. 552, 557 (N-M Ct. Crim. App. 2017), aff’d, 77 M.J. 447 (C.A.A.F. 2018), cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 492 (2018) (CAAFlog case page), the NMCCA rejected a similar challenge because it was “firmly convinced that those in a retired status remain ‘members’ of the land and Naval forces who may face court-martial.” Shortly after it decided Dinger, the NMCCA summarily rejected a similar challenge in United States v. Larrabee, No. 201700075, 2017 CCA LEXIS 723 (N-M Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 28, 2017) (unpub.) (link to slip op.), aff’d, 78 M.J. 107 (C.A.A.F. 2018) (sum. disp.), cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 1164 (2019) (CAAFlog news page).

The decision also suffers from some serious flaws.

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