Opinion Analysis: Sharply divided, a majority of CAAF rejects a novel Article 134 specification for interfering with an emergency call, in United States v. Gleason
CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Gleason, 78 M.J. 473, No. 18-0305/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on June 6, 2019. The court rejects a novel specification under Article 134, concluding that it is barred by the prohibition in the Manual for Courts-Martial against charging a novel specification when the offensive conduct is already covered by an offense enumerated in the Manual. CAAF reverses the decision of the Army CCA, dismisses the specification at issue, sets aside the sentence, and remands for further proceedings.
Judge Sparks writes for the court, joined by Chief Judge Stucky and Judge Ohlson. Judge Ryan and Judge Maggs both dissent, each filing an opinion.
CAAF granted review of a single issue:
Whether the Army Court erred by affirming a novel specification covered by an enumerated Art. 134, UCMJ offense.
Article 134 criminalized three categories of conduct: “ all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces,  all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and  crimes and offenses not capital.” 10 U.S.C. § 934. The President – exercising his rulemaking authority under Article 36 – enumerated in the Manual for Courts-Martial a wide variety of offenses that may be charged as violations of Article 134 (like obstruction of justice, child pornography offenses, and extramarital sexual conduct (formerly adultery)). Outside of those enumerated offenses, however, servicemembers may also be charged with other, novel, violations of Article 134, so long as the conduct falls into one of the three statutory categories. But the President also prescribed three specific conditions for how such novel specifications may be used:
- The first is the preemption doctrine, which states that Article 134 cannot be used to prosecute conduct covered by Articles 80-132. See ¶ 91.c.(5)(a), Part IV, Manual for Courts-Martial (2019 ed.). See also United States v. Wheeler, 77 M.J. 289 (C.A.A.F. Mar. 22, 2018) (CAAFlog case page).
- The second is that “a capital offense may not be tried under Article 134.” ¶ 91.c.(5)(b), Part IV, Manual for Courts-Martial (2019 ed.).
- The third – and the one at issue in this case – is the provision that “if conduct by an accused does not fall under any of the enumerated Article 134 offenses (paragraphs 92 through 109 of this Part), a specification not listed in this Manual may be used to allege the offense.” ¶ 91.c.(6)(a), Part IV, Manual for Courts-Martial (2019 ed.) (formerly ¶ 60.c.(6)(a)).
Two years ago, United States v. Reese, 76 M.J. 297 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 14, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), CAAF interpreted that third condition as flatly prohibiting use of a novel specification to allege an offense under Article 134 where the offense is already listed inside the Article’s framework. Reese involved a specification that functionally alleged the offense of obstruction of justice – as enumerated by the President under Article 134 – without requiring the prosecution to prove two of the four elements of obstruction. Reese was quickly applied in United States v. Guardado, 77 M.J. 90 (C.A.A.F. Dec. 12, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), to reverse two novel specifications that were encompassed by the enumerated offense of indecent language.
Now, in Gleason, CAAF applies Reese to a specification that alleged that:
[Appellant] knowingly and wrongfully interfere[d] with Private First Class J.W.’s ability to place an emergency phone call by taking her telephone from her when she went to call the police and that such conduct was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces and of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.
Slip op. at 4 (modifications in original). The majority finds that the conduct at issue “falls squarely within the President’s explanation of the obstruction of justice offense.” Slip op. at 5. The dissenters, however, would hold that “the novel specification here is not contained within the elements of the listed Article 134, UCMJ, [offense] of obstruction of justice.” Diss. op. of Ryan, J., at 3 (citing Diss. op. of Maggs, J. at 1-4).