CAAFlog » October 2017 Term

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Hennis, __ M.J. __, No. 17-0263/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on February 28, 2020. Hennis is a capital case and CAAF’s review is mandatory. Reviewing 40 issues raised by Hennis’ defense counsel and three issues raised by Hennis personally – but discussing only the five issues on which the court granted oral argument – CAAF affirms the findings, the sentence to death, and the decision of the Army CCA.

Chief Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.

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 Hennis 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, after which Hennis was reinstated in the Army and eventually transferred to the retired list where – like every other regular retiree – he remained subject to the UCMJ. Advances in DNA during the following years 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 raised dozens of challenges to his convictions and capital sentence, but CAAF heard oral argument on only 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 concludes that none of the issues in this case – not those heard at oral argument nor any of the others – provides a basis for relief, and it affirms Hennis’ convictions and sentence to death. As a result, Hennis remains one of only four people on military death row. The others are Gray and Akbar (whose convictions and sentence were affirmed by CAAF), and Hasan (whose case is still pending initial review by the Army CCA).

Read more »

Two years ago, in United States v. Harpole, 77 M.J. 231 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 14, 2018) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF held that the accused’s statements to a military victim advocate were not protected by the Mil. R. Evid. 514 victim advocate-victim privilege because a third party was present (to provide moral support to the accused) at the time the statements were made. But the circumstances of the case suggested that the victim advocate suspected the accused of an offense, and so CAAF remanded for a post-trial fact-finding hearing to determine if the accused received ineffective assistance of counsel when his defense counsel failed to move to suppress his statements due to a violation of Article 31.

The fact-finding hearing is complete and last month the Coast Guard CCA issued an opinion in the case finding no ineffective assistance of counsel because “a motion to suppress under Article 31(b) would not have succeeded.” United States v. Harpole, __ M.J. __, No. 1420 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 18, 2019) (link to slip op.). But the primary reason for that finding is surprising; the CCA holds that a victim advocate’s questioning does not trigger Article 31.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Brubaker explains:

A victim advocate’s role is not to participate in a law enforcement or disciplinary inquiry. Rather, a victim advocate—much like a social worker or medical professional—provides support and services to individual servicemembers who report that they are crime victims. Extending Article 31(b) warning requirements to these services would result in precisely the type of “comprehensive and unintended reach” that our superior Court has consistently abjured. We thus hold that questioning by a victim advocate done solely within that role falls outside the intended reach of Article 31(b), UCMJ.

Slip op. at 7-8.

Read more »

After Senior Chief (E-8) Barry was convicted of sexual assault in violation of Article 120(b), by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, and was sentenced to confinement for three years and a dishonorable discharge, the convening authority – Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge (who later retired) – approved the findings and sentence as adjudged. The Navy-Marine Corps CCA then remanded the case for a new action because Lorge’s Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) erroneously advised Lorge that he had no power to reverse the findings or reduce the sentence.

On remand, Lorge took a closer look at the case, and he developed concerns about the result of the trial. Barry was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman with whom he had an ongoing sexual relationship and under circumstances that raised the defenses of consent and mistake of fact as to consent. Lorge thought about reversing Barry’s conviction, but the SJA advised against it. So Lorge discussed the case with then-Rear Admiral Crawford who at the time was the Deputy Judge Advocate General (DJAG) of the Navy and with whom Lorge had previously served. Crawford later became the actual Judge Advocate General of the Navy (TJAG) and was promoted to Vice Admiral. As Lorge later recalled, Crawford advised him that approving the findings and sentence in Barry’s case was the appropriate course of action.

Ultimately, Lorge did again approve the findings and sentence, but he modified the automatic reduction in rank to retain Barry at E-7. Then – in an unusual move – Lorge added language to his convening authority’s action that questioned the fairness of the trial and the appropriateness of the sentence (though not the sufficiency of the evidence), and that encouraged the Navy-Marine Corps CCA to either remand the case for further proceedings or to disapprove the adjudged punitive discharge (but not to dismiss the charge outright). Lorge, of course, could have done any of those things, but didn’t.

And neither did the CCA. In a lengthy opinion written by then-Chief Judge Palmer, the Navy-Marine Corps CCA rejected numerous assignments of error and affirmed the findings and the sentence. United States v. Barry, No. 201500064 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 31, 2016) (link to slip op.). A few months after that, CAAF summarily affirmed the CCA’s decision. 76 M.J. 269 (C.A.A.F. Apr. 27, 2017).

Sixteen months later, however, CAAF reversed Barry’s conviction and dismissed the charge with prejudice, in United States v. Barry, 78 M.J. 70 (C.A.A.F. Sep. 5, 2018) (CAAFlog case page).

That incredible change of fortune (and the reasoning for it) is the #2 Military Justice Story of 2018.

Read more »

Article 43 of the UCMJ – like federal civil law – contains a baseline five-year statute of limitations. Congress added exceptions in 1986, including an exception for “any offense punishable by death.” At that time, the UCMJ allowed death as the maximum punishment for rape of a female (the statute didn’t protect men until 1992).

But there was a catch: the Supreme Court previously held that death is an unconstitutional punishment for the offense of rape of an adult woman, in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584, 598 (1977). Presumably Congress knew that. CAAF certainly did, acknowledging in United States v. Hickson, 22 M.J. 146, 154 n.10 (C.M.A. 1986), that “in the absence of aggravating circumstances, [a death sentence] cannot be constitutionally inflicted [for rape of an adult].” Nevertheless, in Willenbring v. Neurauter, 48 M.J. 152, 180 (C.A.A.F. 1998), CAAF held that “rape is an ‘offense punishable by death’ for purposes of exempting it from the 5-year statute of limitations of Article 43(b)(1),” even if the absence of aggravating factors meant that a particular rape could never actually be punished by death. In other words, even though Congress only exempted offenses punishable by death from the five year statute of limitations, CAAF held that the exemption applied to a rape charge that was not actually punishable by death.

That changed in 2018 with CAAF’s decision in United States v. Mangahas, 77 M.J. 220 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 6, 2018) (CAAFlog case page). A unanimous CAAF reversed Willenbring and clarified that “where the death penalty could never be imposed for the offense charged, the offense is not punishable by death for purposes of Article 43, UCMJ.” 77 M.J. at 224-225 (emphases in original). That decision is the #3 Military Justice Story of 2018.

Read more »

Last year’s the top story was the exercise of court-martial jurisdiction over retired members of the armed forces. Military retirement isn’t retirement in the ordinary meaning of the term; it’s just a change in status and the UCMJ applies to regular retirees who are entitled to pay. But the exercise (and even the acknowledgement) of such jurisdiction was rare prior to events in 2017 that brought new attention to the fact that military retirees face military prosecution (even for post-retirement misconduct).

One such prosecution was the case of Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) Dinger, USMC (Ret.), who retired after completing 20 years of active enlisted service in the Marine Corps. After his retirement, Dinger lived in Okinawa, Japan, and worked as a military contractor. While there Dinger became a suspect in a child pornography investigation, and a search revealed evidence of possession and production of child pornography. Dinger was arrested, returned to the United States, and indicted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3261.

MEJA, however, generally can’t be used to prosecute a member of the armed forces who is subject to the UCMJ, and Dinger’s retired status put him in that category. So the prosecution moved to dismiss the indictment, and the indictment was dismissed. A court-martial prosecution followed (at which Dinger appeared in civilian clothes), and Dinger agreed to plead guilty in exchange for an eight-year cap on confinement. But the plea deal did not protect Dinger against a punitive discharge, and he received a sentence that included a dishonorable discharge.

Dinger challenged that discharge on appeal but, in 2018, CAAF affirmed the discharge and the Supreme Court rejected Dinger’s petition for review. United States v. Dinger, 77 M.J. 447 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 18, 2018), pet. denied, 139 S.Ct. 492 (Nov. 13, 2018) (CAAFlog case page).

CAAF’s holding that a retired member may be sentenced to a punitive discharge is the #6 Military Justice Story of 2018.

Read more »

The #7 Military Justice Story of 2018 is United States v. Robinson (AF), 77 M.J. 303 (C.A.A.F. 2018) (CAAFlog case page). One of two 2018 cases by the same name but with different appellants (this one from the Air Force, the other from the Army), in Robinson (AF) a majority of CAAF limited the reach of the court’s 2017 decision in United States v. Mitchell, 76 M.J. 413 (C.A.A.F. Aug. 30, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), in which CAAF affirmed the suppression of the results of a cell phone search because military investigators pressed Mitchell to decrypt the device after Mitchell requested an attorney.

Mitchell was the #4 Military Justice Story of 2017, in part because of the attention the case received from outside of the military justice system. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia all supported Mitchell as amicus curiae. CAAF’s ultimate decision was split – with Chief Judge Stucky writing for a four-judge majority and Judge Ryan dissenting – and it was somewhat constrained by its application of strong language from Mil. R. Evid. 305(c)(2) that prohibits admission of evidence obtained by interrogation after a suspect requests an attorney. But Chief Judge Stucky’s majority opinion was also grounded in broad Constitutional themes, explaining that CAAF was “enforcing the prophylactic Miranda [v. Arizona] right to counsel, and the second layer of prophylaxis established in Edwards [v. Arizona], both of which are constitutionally grounded measures taken to protect the core Fifth Amendment privilege.” 76 M.J. at 419 (marks and citations omitted).

But those prophylactic measures reached their limit in Robinson (AF).

Judge Ohlson wrote for a four-judge majority – with Chief Judge Stucky dissenting – and found no error in military investigators asking Robinson for the passcode to his phone after Robinson informed the investigators that he had an attorney and invoked his right to remain silent. The facts of Robinson are very similar to those of Mitchell, with an exception: in Mitchell the investigators were executing a search authorization (the military substitute for a warrant), but in Robinson the investigators were exploiting Robinson’s consent to a search of the device. Requesting consent to a search is an exception to the no-questioning-after-invocation rule from Edwards, and a majority of CAAF found that exception to be an important distinction:

The facts of Mitchell are distinguishable from Appellant’s case, primarily because Mitchell involved a search authorization of the accused’s cell phone rather than a voluntary consent to search, as here.

77 M.J. at 306 n.4 (citations omitted). Chief Judge Stucky, however, found no meaningful distinction between the facts of Robinson and those of Mitchell (noting that the court’s analysis in Mitchell “focused on whether the accused was in custody and subject to interrogation,” 77 M.J. at 307-308, and Robinson also involved a custodial interrogation).

Robinson is a big limitation on Mitchell, earning it this spot on the Top Ten list.

CAAF decided the Navy case of United States v. Barry, 78 M.J. 70, No. 17-0162/NA (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. A divided court agrees that the appellant’s conviction of sexual assault in violation of Article 120(b) must be reversed, but it disagrees about how and why that reversal should occur. The majority orders the charge and specification dismissed with prejudice, while the dissenters would “instruct the convening authority to withdraw the action and substitute a corrected action disapproving the finding of guilty.” Diss. op. at 16.

Chief Judge Stucky writes for the court, joined by Judge Ohlson and Senior Judge Erdmann (participating because Judge Sparks recused himself). Judge Ryan dissents, joined by Judge Maggs.

CAAF granted review of two issues questioning whether unlawful influence tainted the convening authority’s approval of the findings and sentence:

Specified issue: Whether a Deputy Judge Advocate General can commit unlawful command influence under Article 37, UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. § 837 (2012).

Granted issue: Whether military officials exerted actual unlawful command influence on the convening authority or created the appearance of doing so.

After Senior Chief Special Warfare (E-8) Barry was convicted of sexual assault in violation of Article 120(b), and sentenced to confinement for three years and a dishonorable discharge, the convening authority – Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge (who has since retired) – approved the findings and sentence as adjudged. The NMCCA then remanded the case for a new action because Lorge’s Staff Judge Advocate erroneously advised Lorge that he had no power to reverse the findings or reduce the sentence (based on the SJA’s reading of ALNAV 051/14, which I dissected here).

Lorge then took a closer look at the case, and he began to doubt the findings. He thought about reversing the conviction (a power he had in this case), but Lorge’s SJA advised against it. So Lorge discussed the case with then-Rear Admiral Crawford who at the time was the Deputy Judge Advocate General (DJAG) of the Navy and with whom Lorge had previously served. Crawford later became the actual Judge Advocate General of the Navy (TJAG) and was promoted to Vice Admiral. According to Lorge, Crawford advised Lorge “that approving the findings and sentence was the appropriate course of action in [Barry]’s case.” Slip op. at 6.

Ultimately, Lorge again approved the findings and sentence, but he modified the automatic reduction in rank to retain Barry at E-7. Then – in an unusual move – Lorge added the following language to his convening authority’s action:

In my seven years as a General Court-Martial Convening Authority, I have never reviewed a case that has given me greater pause than the one that is before me now. The evidence presented at trial and the clemency submitted on behalf of the accused was compelling and caused me concern as to whether SOCS Barry received a fair trial or an appropriate sentence. I encourage the Appellate Court to reconcile the apparently divergent case law addressing the testimony that an accused may present during sentencing for the purpose of reconsideration under R.C.M. 924. Additionally, having personally reviewed the record of trial, I am concerned that the judicial temperament of the Military Judge potentially calls into question the legality, fairness, and impartiality of this court-martial. The validity of the military justice system depends on the impartiality of military judges both in fact and in appearance. If prejudicial legal error was committed, I strongly encourage the Appellate Court to consider remanding this case for further proceedings or, in the alternative, disapproving the punitive discharge pursuant to Article 66(c)[,] UCMJ, thereby allowing the accused to retire in the rank that he last honorably served.

Slip op. at 2-3 (marks in original). On appeal, the Navy-Marine Corps CCA affirmed the findings and sentence, rejecting four assignments of error. CAAF summarily affirmed on April 27, 2017.

But after CAAF summarily affirmed, Lorge provided an affidavit to Barry’s defense counsel claiming that he didn’t believe the evidence proved Barry’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that he wanted to disapprove the findings and sentence, however he did not do so because of political pressures related to the politicization of the military’s response to sexual assault (the #1 Military Justice Story of 2012). The primary source of that pressure was said to have been Lorge’s discussion of the case with Crawford. Barry then asked CAAF to reconsider its action, and CAAF ordered a post-trial fact-finding hearing to investigate the affidavit. The Chief Trial Judge of the Air Force presided over the hearing and then issued findings last year (discussed here).

CAAF then granted review because, as Chief Judge Stucky’s majority opinion explains in the first sentence:

It is not every day that a general court-martial convening authority begs our forgiveness for his failure of leadership in approving findings he believed should not be approved.

Slip op. at 1 (emphasis added). That is, however, the harshest criticism of Lorge in the decision.

Read more »

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Jones, 78 M.J. 37, No. 17-0608/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.) on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Applying the old corroboration rule (that was effective prior to this 2016 change), CAAF unanimously finds that sufficient independent evidence was admitted to corroborate a confession to larceny of military property, even after excluding the statement of a co-conspirator that the Army Government Appellate Division conceded was improperly admitted (and used as corroboration at trial). Because the confession was otherwise corroborated, the erroneous admission of the co-conspirator’s statement is harmless and the findings, sentence, and decision of the Army CCA are affirmed.

Judge Maggs writes for a unanimous court.

CAAF granted review of three issues that focused on the admission of the a co-conspirator’s statement:

I. Whether admission of an alleged co-conspirators confession to law enforcement violated M.R.E. 801(d)(2)(E).

II. Whether admission of the same confession violated Appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation.

III. Whether use of the confession to corroborate otherwise unsupported essential elements in Appellant’s own confession violated M.R.E. 304(g) and United States v. Adams, 74 M.J. 137 (C.A.A.F.).

Chief Warrant Officer (W2) Jones was convicted of two specifications of larceny of military property, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, and was sentenced to confinement for 17 days, a reprimand, and to be dismissed. Jones was acquitted of a single specification of conspiracy to commit the charged larceny offenses.

In late 2013 and early 2014, Jones was a mobilized reservist deployed to Afghanistan where he “served as the officer in charge of his unit’s woodshop.” Slip op. at 3. Jones was convicted stealing tools from the woodshop and mailing them to his home in North Carolina (to use at the high school where he was a teacher in civilian life). Jones confessed those facts to Army investigators. But that confession alone was not enough to convict Jones, because a confession is inadmissible unless it is corroborated by independent evidence. See Mil. R. Evid. 304(c). See also our #10 Military Justice Story of 2015 (Confessions).

There was, however, an accomplice. Master Sergeant Addington participated in the acts, and he also confessed to military investigators. The prosecution offered that confession into evidence as a statement made by a co-conspirator during and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Such statements are not hearsay and are admissible under Mil. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E) (and the equivalent Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E)). The defense objected but the military judge admitted Addington’s confession (providing ample corroboration for Jones’ confession) and Jones was convicted.

It’s pretty hard to defend the military judge’s decision to admit Addington’s confession to military investigators as a statement by a co-conspirator made during and in furtherance of the conspiracy, because confessing to the conspiracy is a pretty bad way to further it. Nevertheless, the Army court summarily affirmed Jones’ convictions. But after CAAF granted review, the Army Appellate Government Division conceded that the military judge was wrong to admit Addington’s confession. The Government Division maintained, however, that the military judge’s error was harmless because other evidence admitted at trial provided sufficient corroboration for Jones’ confession.

Today CAAF agreed. Writing for the unanimous court, Judge Maggs explains that: “We conclude that the military judge did not err in admitting Appellant’s statement. We further conclude that the military judge improperly admitted MSG Addington’s statement, but we find that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.” Slip op. at 2.

Read more »

Today CAAF issued a summary disposition in United States v. Burris, 78 M.J. 56, No.17-0605/AR (CAAFlog case page), reversing the Army CCA and remanding for a new Article 66 review:

On further consideration of the granted issue (77 M.J. 138 (C.A.A.F. 2017)), the briefs of the parties, and oral argument, we note that the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the mere failure to object to evidence and findings argument waives challenges to such evidence and argument and that the Government concedes that the lower court’s reasoning was in error. We agree with the Government that a mere failure to object to the admission of evidence and to findings argument constitutes forfeiture, not waiver. United States v. Andrews, 77 M.J. 393 (C.A.A.F. 2018); United States v. Knapp, 73 M.J. 33, 36 (C.A.A.F. 2014). We further note that the Government has argued for the first time in this Court that Appellant affirmatively waived his challenges to the admission of character evidence and argument. We leave this argument for the lower court to address on remand.

Accordingly, it is, by the Court, this 19th day of July, 2018,


That the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals is set aside. The record of trial is returned to the Judge Advocate General of the Army for remand to the Court of Criminal Appeals for a new review under Article 66, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 866 (2012).

Disclosure: I represent Major Burris as his civilian appellate defense counsel and I argued this case at CAAF on his behalf.

Case Links:
 ACCA decision
• ACCA decision on reconsideration
 Blog post: CAAF grants
 Appellant’s brief 
 Appellee’s (Army Gov’t App. Div.) brief
 Appellant’s reply brief
• Blog post: Argument preview
• Oral argument audio
• Blog post: CAAF summary decision

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Christensen, 78 M.J. 1, No. No. 17-0604/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. In a narrowly-written opinion, the court distances itself from (but does not overrule) its precedent regarding when a servicemember is discharged from the service and court-martial jurisdiction ends. CAAF concludes that under the specific facts of this case, reason and policy dictate that the appellant was discharged prior to his court-martial and so the tribunal lacked personal jurisdiction to try him. The court reverses the findings and sentence, and the decision of the Army CCA, and dismisses the charges.

Judge Ohlson writes for the court, joined by Chief Judge Stucky and Judge Sparks. Judge Maggs writes separately, concurring, joined by Judge Ryan.

CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether Appellant was subject to court-martial jurisdiction.

In 2014, Private First Class (E-3) Christensen was convicted by a general court-martial of one specification of sexual assault in violation of Article 120 (2012), and sentenced to confinement for eight years, total forfeitures, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.

A year before the trial – in March 2013 – Christensen was pending administrative separation from the Army and “was arrested by civilian authorities for a suspected sexual assault involving another soldier and he was placed in civilian confinement.” Slip op. at 2. While in that civilian confinement, Christensen’s administrative separation was approved by the separation authority, a sergeant “fully cleared [Christensen] from post,” his military identification card was taken from him, and a noncommissioned officer visited him in April and told him “he was ‘out of the Army now’ and wished him good luck.” Slip op. at 2.

That, however, is not enough to discharge a servicemember from the Armed Forces under CAAF’s precedent. Rather, a servicemember is discharged (and court-martial jurisdiction ends) only after three things happen: “(1) the delivery of a discharge certificate (a DD Form 214); (2) a final accounting of pay; and (3) the completion of the clearing process that is required under service regulations.” Slip op. at 7 (citing United States v. Hart, 66 M.J. 273, 276-79 (C.A.A.F. 2008)).

Christensen was cleared, and a DD-214 was mailed to his home (stating his date of discharge as April 17, 2013), but his final accounting of pay was delayed by the chief of justice (senior prosecutor) at Fort Stewart, GA. That military prosecutor:

acted on his own authority and without coordinating with anyone in command. Further, neither he nor the OSJA contacted Appellant to let him know that they were halting his final pay. At the jurisdiction motions hearing, the chief of justice testified that he wanted to have the ability to exercise military jurisdiction over Appellant until he could “confirm that the civilians were going to prosecute this [sexual assault case] in a way that we felt was appropriate.”

Slip op. at 3-4 (marks in original). Judge Ohlson’s majority opinion also observes that:

Despite the actions of the chief of justice beginning in April 2013, it was not until August or September when the brigade commander formally requested a revocation of Appellant’s DD Form 214. Then on September 26, the Government preferred one charge and specification against Appellant. On September 30, the soldier processing center voided Appellant’s DD Form 214 and revoked his discharge. However, it was not until December that anyone from Appellant’s unit notified him that he was still considered a member of the armed forces and that he was going to be court-martialed.

Slip op. at 5. Thereafter Christensen “had difficulty using many of the facilities that would be readily available to active duty soldiers—such as the dining hall—because he was not on the roster of active duty military personnel. He likewise did not have an identification card, assigned quarters, or any of his own uniforms. Moreover, [Christensen] was not paid from April 2013 until January 2014.” Slip op. at 5-6.

Christensen challenged the existence of jurisdiction at trial and also on appeal at the Army CCA, but the challenge was denied on the basis that “there was no final accounting of pay” (as required under CAAF’s precedent, including Hart), and so there was no valid discharge. Slip op. at 6.

CAAF does not disagree with the conclusion that there was no final accounting of pay, but the majority nevertheless finds no jurisdiction to try Christensen by court-martial in 2014 because “to hold otherwise would clearly go against ‘reason or policy.'” Slip op. at 7 (quoting United States v. Nettles, 74 M.J. 289, 291 (C.A.A.F. 2015) (CAAFlog case page)).

Judge Maggs’ concurring opinion agrees with the majority’s conclusion that there was no jurisdiction, but it “prioritize[s] statutes and regulations over judge-made law.” Con. op. at 3. Seemingly uncomfortable with the majority’s embrace of a reason or policy exception to the three-part test from Hart, Judge Maggs and Judge Ryan would determine the existence of a jurisdiction-ending discharge by first identifying whether a statute or regulation “specifies when a discharge has occurred,” and if one does then “the Court would simply apply that statute or regulation.” Con. op. at 2. And in this case there is such a regulation: Army Regulation 635-200, “which provides, with certain exceptions not relevant here, that a discharge ‘is effective at 2400 on the date of notice of discharge to the Soldier.'” Con. op. at 2 (quoting AR 635-200 at ¶ 1-29.c).

Read more »

This week at SCOTUS: In the wake of its opinion in Ortiz v. United States, 585 U.S. __, No. 16-1423 (June 22, 2018) (analyzed here), the Supreme Court denied the petitions in Alexander, Abdirahman, Cash, and Richards (all of which involved Ortiz trailer issues). The Court also denied the petitions in Bales (denial noted here) and Gray (analysis of CAAF’s opinion is here and here).

I’m not aware of any other military justice developments at the Supreme Court, where I’m tracking two cases:

This week at CAAF: CAAF completed its oral argument calendar for the term. Details about the cases reviewed by CAAF this term are available on our 2017 Term of Court page.

This week at the ACCA: The next scheduled oral argument at the Army CCA is on July 10, 2018.

This week at the AFCCA: The Air Force CCA will hear oral argument in United States v. Collins on Thursday, June 28, 2018, at 10 a.m. No additional information is available on the CCA’s website.

This week at the CGCCA: The next scheduled oral argument at the Coast Guard CCA is on August 9, 2018. The argument will occur at the NMCCA’s courtroom in the Washington Navy Yard.

This week at the NMCCA: The Navy-Marine Corps CCA’s website shows no scheduled oral arguments.

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Armstrong, 77 M.J. 465, No. 17-0556/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Thursday, June 28, 2018. The court holds that assault consummated by a battery is not a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm because even though both offenses require bodily harm, a battery must involve unlawful force or violence, while abusive sexual contact need only involve a certain mental state. Nevertheless, reviewing for plain error (because the defense failed to preserve the issue with a timely objection) CAAF finds no material prejudice to the defense in this case and affirms the conviction of assault consummated by a battery and the decision of the Army CCA.

Judge Maggs writes for the court, joined by Chief Judge Stucky and Judge Ryan. Judge Ohlson writes a separate concurring opinion, joined by Judge Sparks.

Captain (O-3) Armstrong was charged with abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm in violation of Article 120(d) (incorporating Article 120(b)(1)(B)) (2012). A general court-martial composed of members convicted Armstrong of assault consummated by a battery as a lesser included offense, and sentence him to be dismissed. The Army CCA summarily affirmed the findings and sentence.

The factual basis for the convicton was that the alleged victim (the civilian wife of another officer) reported that she fell asleep on a couch during a party and awoke to Armstrong touching her. The charge sheet alleged that Armstrong:

did . . . commit sexual contact upon [Mrs. G.]., to wit: touching through the clothing the genitalia of the said [Mrs. G.], by causing bodily harm to the said [Mrs. G.], to wit: wedging his hands between her thighs.

Slip op. at 2 (quoting charge sheet) (modifications in original). Sexual contact is a legal term of art that encompasses touching “with an intent to abuse, humiliate, or degrade any person,” or “with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.” Article 120(g)(2)(A) and (B).

In advance of trial Armstrong’s defense counsel requested instructions relevant to a possible lesser included offense of assault consummated by a battery, including “a mistake of fact instruction with regard to battery, the lesser included offense.” Slip op. at 3 (marks omitted) (emphasis added). Despite this and other requested instructions referencing battery as a lesser included offense, CAAF finds that:

Defense counsel, however, never expressly agreed that assault consummated by a battery was a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact by causing bodily harm.

Slip op. at 3. But at trial, when it was time to instruct the members, the prosecution requested that they be instructed that they could convict Armstrong of assault consummated by a battery as a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact. The military judge asked Armstrong’s defense counsel for their position, to which the defense responded: “Taking no position on it, judge.” Slip op. at 3 (quoting record).

Bad move. That equivocation is why CAAF now affirms Armstrong’s conviction of assault consummated by a battery despite finding that it is not actually a lesser included offense of abusive sexual contact.

Read more »

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Williams, 77 M.J. 459, No. 17-0285/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. In this Hills trailer case involving the improper use of charged offenses for propensity purposes, CAAF holds that the Army CCA wrongly held that the circumstances involve an exception to Hills. The court reverses convictions of rape and forcible sodomy, affirms other convictions, and authorizes a rehearing.

Chief Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.

In 2013, Sergeant (E-5) Williams was convicted of raping his first wife (Charge I), and forcibly sodomizing and battering his second wife (Charges II and III), by a general court-martial composed of members with enlisted representation. Before trial, the prosecution gave notice of its intent to use the charged sexual offenses against each wife as evidence of Williams’ propensity to commit the charged offenses against the other wife; a tactic that was somewhat common in military practice at the time but that CAAF later held to be improper, in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 27, 2016) (CAAFlog case page).

Williams’ defense counsel filed a motion to preclude the prosecution from using the charged offenses for propensity purposes. “[T]he military judge questioned the ripeness of the issue, signaled that the proper time to address the issue would be when discussing panel instructions, and did not then explicitly rule on the motion.” Slip op. at 4. At trial, however, the defense did not renew its objection, and a different military judge instructed the panel that it could use the charged rapes (Charge I) as evidence of Williams’ propensity to commit the charged forcible sodomy (Charge II), and also that:

You may also consider the evidence of such other acts of sexual assaults for its tendency, if any, to show the accused’s propensity or predisposition to engage in sexual assault.

Slip op. at 5 (quoting record). Williams was convicted. On appeal the Army CCA affirmed the convictions, concluding that “this case is an exception to Hills.” United States v. Williams, No. 20130582, slip op. at 2 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan 12, 2017) (link to slip op.). The CCA reasoned:

Charge I is entirely unaffected by Hills. When deliberating on evidence with regards to the Specification of Charge I, the panel was not allowed to consider propensity. Additionally, with regards to the forcible sodomy specifications contained in Charge II, the only propensity evidence the panel was allowed to consider stemmed from a specification that had been independently proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

CCA op. at 2 (emphasis in original). Put differently, the CCA concluded that the propensity instruction only allowed the members to use Charge I to prove Charge II, and since Williams was convicted of Charge I first, the facts of that charge were properly used to prove Charge II.

CAAF wholly rejects the CCA’s reasoning in yesterday’s opinion, with Chief Judge Stucky expressing concern that “this is the third case in which we have had to correct a Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment on this issue,” slip op. at 1-2, and that “in the wake of Hills, our lower courts have attempted to impermissibly narrow that holding by carving out exceptions that run contrary to an accused’s presumption of innocence,” slip op. at 6.

Read more »

CAAF decided the interlocutory Army case of United States v. Hendrix, 77 M.J. 454, No. 18-0133/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Rejecting the military judge’s conclusion that a dismissal of charges (followed shortly by a re-preferral) was a subterfuge to avoid the regulatory (R.C.M. 707) speedy trial right, CAAF finds no speedy trial violation and reverses the military judge’s decision that dismissed the charges with prejudice, affirming the decision of the Army CCA.

Judge Sparks writes for a unanimous court.

The accused, Private (E-2) Hendrix, was charged on November 29, 2016, with two specifications of sexual assault. The alleged victim declined to participate in any prosecution, and the convening authority dismissed the charges. But then – three days later – the alleged victim changed her mind and the charges were re-preferred one day after that. Hendrix was then arraigned on June 8, 2017; 156 days after the first preferral.

That arraignment exceeded the 120-day deadline in R.C.M. 707. Hendrix moved to dismiss, and the military judge granted the motion and dismissed the specification with prejudice after concluding that the convening authority’s dismissal of the original charges was a subterfuge. But the prosecution appealed and the Army CCA reversed, concluding that the dismissal was not a subterfuge because it was based on the alleged victim’s unwillingness-turned-willingness to participate. CAAF then granted review to determine:

Whether the military judge abused his discretion by dismissing the charge and specifications with prejudice for a violation of R.C.M. 707.

He did, explains Judge Sparks, because “dismissal and repreferral are fully permissible under the provisions of R.C.M. 707.” Slip op. at 5. As for the alleged victim’s vacillating willingness to participate, the court finds that this actually supported the convening authority’s action, because “the fact that the complaining witness changed her mind about testifying dramatically changed the strength of the Government’s case.” Slip op. at 6.

Read more »

CAAF decided the Marine Corps case of United States v. Dinger, 77 M.J. 447, No. 17-0510/MC (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, June 18, 2018. The court holds that a retired member of the armed forces can be sentenced to a punitive discharge, affirming the decision of the Navy-Marine Corps CCA and the adjudged sentence in this case.

Chief Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.

Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) Dinger, USMC (Ret.), pleaded guilty to a number of child exploitation offenses, all of which were committed after Dinger entered retired status following the completion of 20 years of enlisted service in the active component of the Marine Corps. A general court-martial composed of a military judge alone 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.

The military judge rejected a trial-stage argument that the sentence could not lawfully include a punitive discharge (because of Dinger’s retired status), and the Navy-Marine Corps CCA again rejected the argument on appeal. CAAF then granted review of a single issue:

10 U.S.C § 6332 states that when a person is placed in a retired status, this “transfer is conclusive for all purposes.” Can a court-martial lawfully sentence a retiree to a punitive discharge?

In yesterday’s opinion Chief Judge Stucky explains that CAAF agrees with the military judge and the NMCCA, overruling precedent insofar as it supports a different outcome.

Read more »