CAAFlog » October 2018 Term » United States v. Hutchins

CAAF decided the Marine Corps case of United States v. Hutchins, __ M.J. __, No. 18-0234/MC (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. In its third review of this long-running prosecution, CAAF finds that no issue of ultimate fact was determined by Hutchins’ acquittal of certain offenses in his first trial and also that the prosecution could prove all the elements of the offenses at his second trial without invoking the elements of the acquitted offenses. Accordingly, the doctrine of issue preclusion – as embodied by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment and codified in Rule for Courts-Martial 905(g) – does not apply, and CAAF affirms the decision of the NMCCA that affirmed the findings and sentence.

Judge Ohlson writes for a unanimous court.

Sergeant (E-5) Hutchins was tried twice by general court-martial for his participation in a 2006 kidnap-murder conspiracy in Iraq that is colloquially known as the Hamdania incident. His first court-martial was in 2007 and resulted in convictions of conspiracy, false official statement, unpremeditated murder, and larceny, but acquittals of other related offenses. Hutchins was sentenced to reduction to E-1, a reprimand, confinement for 15 years, and a dishonorable discharge, however the convening authority disapproved the reprimand and all confinement in excess of 11 years.

A roller-coaster of appellate litigation followed. The Navy-Marine Corps CCA initially reversed Hutchins’ convictions in 2010 (decision analyzed here), but CAAF reversed the CCA’s decision in 2011 (noted here). On remand in 2012, the NMCCA affirmed the findings and the sentence (noted here). But CAAF reversed that decision too, and then it set aside Hutchins’ convictions and authorized a rehearing in United States v. Hutchins, 72 M.J. 294 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page).

The rehearing occurred in 2015, and Hutchins was again convicted of conspiracy, murder, and larceny. Those convictions, however, implicated conduct that that was also implicated by the offenses that Hutchins’ was acquitted of at the first trial. Specifically, the prosecution was allowed to introduce evidence implicating the acquitted offenses in order to prove that Hutchins had a plan to commit the charged offenses (that he had been convicted of committing at the first trial). Hutchins claimed that violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy on the basis of collateral estoppel or issue preclusion (different names for the same thing), and CAAF granted review to determine:

Whether the military judge erred when he denied the defense motion to suppress evidence of conduct for which Appellant had been acquitted at his first trial.

Judge Ohlson’s opinion for the unanimous CAAF holds that issue preclusion does not apply to the facts of Hutchins’ case and so the military judge could properly apply Mil. R. Evid. 403 and 404(b) to the prosecution’s evidence that implicated the acquitted offenses. Furthermore, because Hutchins “does not meaningfully contest the military judge’s application of those rules on their own terms,” CAAF does not review the military judge’s underlying ruling admitting the evidence.

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Audio of today’s oral arguments at CAAF is available on CAAF’s website at the following links:

United States v. Hutchins, No. 18-0234/MC (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

United States v. Meakin, No. 18-0339/AF (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio.

The audio is also available on our oral argument audio podcast.

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Marine Corps case of United States v. Hutchins, No. 18-0234/MC (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, January 23, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. This is CAAF’s third review of the long-running prosecution of Sergeant (E-5) Hutchins for his participation in a 2006 kidnap-murder conspiracy in Iraq that is colloquially known as the Hamdania incident.

Hutchins was first convicted in 2007 of conspiracy, false official statement, unpremeditated murder, and larceny. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, a reprimand, confinement for 15 years, and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority disapproved the reprimand and all confinement in excess of 11 years.

The Navy-Marine Corps CCA reversed Hutchins’ convictions in 2010 (decision analyzed here), but CAAF reversed the CCA’s decision in 2011 (noted here). On remand in 2012, the CCA affirmed the findings and the sentence (noted here). But CAAF reversed that decision too, and then it set aside Hutchins’ convictions and authorized a rehearing in United States v. Hutchins, 72 M.J. 294 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page).

The rehearing occurred in 2015, and Hutchins was again convicted of conspiracy, murder, and larceny. The conspiracy conviction, however, implicated conduct of which Hutchins was acquitted at the first trial. Specifically, Hutchins was originally charged with a conspiracy to commit six offenses (larceny, housebreaking, kidnapping, false official statements, murder, and obstructing justice), and the charge alleged 21 overt acts in furtherance of that conspiracy. The members of the first court-martial found Hutchins not guilty of two of the six alleged offenses (housebreaking and kidnapping) and two of the alleged 21 overt acts, and was also acquitted of other charged offenses (including premeditated murder and obstruction of justice). Nevertheless, at the 2015 rehearing the prosecution introduced evidence of all six possible objects of the conspiracy, and it also introduced evidence of the other offenses of which Hutchins was acquitted. The prosecution was allowed to do that because the military judge found that evidence admissible for the limited purpose of proving that Hutchins had a plan to commit the charged offenses (that he had been convicted of committing at the first trial).

Hutchins claims that violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy on the basis of collateral estoppel or issue preclusion (different names for the same thing). The Supreme Court recently explained that:

In criminal prosecutions, as in civil litigation, the issue-preclusion principle means that “when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.” Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U. S. 436, 443 (1970).

Bravo-Fernandez v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 352, 356 (2016). The NMCCA rejected Hutchins’ claim of error, and CAAF granted review of a single issue:

Whether the military judge erred when he denied the defense motion to suppress evidence of conduct for which Appellant had been acquitted at his first trial.

Hutchins argues that the military judge did err, and that the error affected all of the charges and so they should all be dismissed with prejudice and he should be freed from any criminal consequences for his involvement in the killing.

The Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Government Division argues that issue preclusion doesn’t apply to the facts of this case, and also that it doesn’t apply to any rehearing.

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The long-running court-martial prosecution of Marine Sergeant Hutchins, for his participation in a 2006 kidnap-murder conspiracy in Iraq that is colloquially known as the Hamdania incident, will be reviewed by CAAF for a third time.

Hutchins was first convicted in 2007 of conspiracy, false official statement, unpremeditated murder, and larceny. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, a reprimand, confinement for 15 years, and a dishonorable discharge. The convening authority disapproved the reprimand and all confinement in excess of 11 years.

On appeal, the Navy-Marine Corps CCA reversed Hutchins’ convictions because it found that Hutchins’ military defense counsel was improperly released from the case upon his end of active duty service (decision analyzed here). Hutchins was released from confinement while the Judge Advocate General of the Navy certified the case to CAAF. But CAAF reversed the CCA’s decision in 2011, finding the release of Hutchins’ defense counsel to be harmless (noted here) (link to slip op.), and Hutchins was returned to confinement.

After CAAF’s 2011 decision, the Navy-Marine Corps reviewed Hutchins’ case for a second time, and it affirmed the findings and the sentence (noted here). CAAF then granted review (noted here) and, in 2013 it reversed Hutchins’ convictions because military investigators unlawfully reinitiated communications with Hutchins after he requested an attorney (leading to a confession that was erroneously admitted at trial) United States v. Hutchins, 72 M.J. 294 (C.A.A.F. 2013) (CAAFlog case page).

CAAF authorized a rehearing, a rehearing was ordered, and Hutchins was again convicted.

During Hutchins’ second trial, the prosecution offered evidence of uncharged acts as proof of Hutchins’ plan to commit the charged acts. Some of those uncharged acts, however, were the basis for charges of which Hutchins was found not guilty at his first trial. Hutchins’ defense counsel opposed the prosecution’s tactic at the second trial, arguing that the prior acquittal barred the subsequent use of the acts. The military judge disagreed, and the Navy-Marine Corps CCA affirmed with a lengthy analysis that ultimately relied on Mil. R. Evid. 404(b) to hold that the uncharged acts (including acts implicating the acquittals) were “proof of motive, intent, preparation, plan, and an absence of mistake or accident with regard to the charges against [Hutchins], particularly conspiracy to commit murder and murder.” United States v. Hutchins, No. 200800393, slip op. at 23 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 29, 2018) (link to slip op.).

CAAF will now review that issue:

No. 18-0234/MC. U.S. v. Lawrence G. Hutchins III. CCA 200800393. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE MILITARY JUDGE ERRED WHEN HE DENIED THE DEFENSE MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE OF CONDUCT FOR WHICH APPELLANT HAD BEEN ACQUITTED AT HIS FIRST TRIAL.

Briefs will be filed under Rule 25.