Articles Posted in New Cases

The interesting case of West v. Rieth, et. al. has come across the transom and it’s worth the read.

West alleges that the Federal Defendants, who with one exception were also U.S. Marine Corps service members at all relevant times, conspired to lodge false complaints and accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against him. According to the complaint, such false allegations were personally motivated by a desire to remove West and another individual from their supervisory positions and to obtain favorable transfers.[3]Investigations ensued, and West was court-martialed with respect to the allegations lodged by Rieth, Parrott, and Allen. The allegation that West raped defendant Johnson was not part of the court-martial because an investigator found that such allegation was not credible.[4]

At the court-martial in November 2014, defendants Rieth, Parrott, and Allen testified under oath against West, which testimony West alleges was false.

West was found not guilty of the majority of charges arising out of the alleged sexual assault and harassment directed towards Parrott, Harper, and Rieth.[6] He was found guilty of a subset of charges based on (1) certain sexually suggestive comments made to Allen[7] and (2) obstructing justice by conspiring with another Marine to provide Allen with copies of their text messages in an attempt to influence her testimony.[8] West alleges that as he was being escorted to serve a sentence of thirty days in confinement as a result of his convictions, “defendants Rieth, Parrott, and Allen, spit upon” him.

It’s a scope of employment and immunity case.

Is a complaining witness acting within the scope of employment when making a sexual assault or harassment complaint?

Is a complaining witness acting within the scope of employment when making a false sexual assault or harassment complaint?

First we look to state law because “Judicial review of the scope-of-employment certification “requires the application of the law of the state in which the employee’s conduct occurred.” Williams, 71 F.3d at 505.”

According to the government, the Federal Defendants, as employees of the Marine Corps, “were required to take the actions necessary to report and address any issue of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault with the appropriate United States Marine Corps officials.”[14] The government also argues that the U.S. Attorney’s certification “was appropriate because a determination had been made by the appropriate federal officials that there was enough credible evidence that the named Federal Defendants were the victims of workplace sexual harassment and/or sexual assault to refer charges to the General Court Martial.”[15] The implicit premise of the government’s argument in support of the scope-of-employment certification is that the Federal Defendants had a legitimate basis for reporting that West sexually assaulted and/or sexually harassed them and then testifying to those allegations at the subsequent court-martial.

The government is plainly correct that reporting sexual harassment and/or sexual assault by another Marine is within the reporting Marine’s course and scope of employment. Both parties have submitted Department of Defense documentation regarding the programs established to facilitate the reporting of such allegations, which documentation establishes that the military’s “goal is a culture free of sexual assault, through an environment of prevention, education and training, response capability . . ., victim support, reporting procedures, and appropriate accountability.”[16] West concedes that “sexual assault on a service member is disruptive and destructive to the military and violates its core values in a fundamental way.”[17]

The Court agrees that reporting sexual assault and/or sexual harassment would plainly be “primarily employment rooted” and “reasonably incidental to the performance of the employee’s duties.” See White, 419 F. App’x at 442. Likewise, use of a system expressly created by the Marine Corps to receive and handle such complaints is sufficiently “on the employer’s premises” and “during the hours of employment” to satisfy those factors, as would be testimony by a Marine at a court-martial instigated by such reports.

However, West alleges that the underlying allegations against him were fabricated, and that making false reports of sexual assault and testifying falsely as to those allegations cannot be characterized as within the scope of the employment of a U.S. Marine Corps service member.[18] West forcefully argues that completely false allegations made by one Marine against another solely on the basis of a personal vendetta and for personal gain would not be “reasonably incidental to the performance of the employee’s duties,” nor could such statements have “the purpose of serving the master’s business . . . to any appreciable extent.” Id.[19]

This case is an excellent read, especially for those of us considering whether they have the right case to sue a complaining witness who makes a false claim of sexual assault or harassment.  Such cases are not to be lightly pursued and require a significant degree of proof of falsity.  The need for a very thorough package of proof is illustrated in this case.

The Court concludes that West’s evidence consists of factual nitpicking, his personal “spin” on facts which equally tend to suggest that some of the allegations were well-founded, and secondhand credibility determinations. His submission falls well short of carrying his burden to establish as a factual matter that the allegations lodged against him by the Federal Defendants were false[.]

Bottom line, and I think correctly, you are not going to win a civil suit in a she said-he said case or the ubiquitous drunk sex case.



It is routine for military prosecutors to overcharge in courts-martial.  They feel the more they can pile on the worse it makes the accused look.  So that’s why you might see a charge of murder along with a charge of spitting on the side-walk.

One of the areas of frequent abuse is the use of inchoate crimes – primarily here conspiracy.  The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has just issued an opinion in a case I defended at trial a couple of years ago.  The case was tried in 2012, and the first stage of appeal was decided in February 2015.  The next stage is CAAF.

In United States v. Willis, we had objected at trial to a conviction on multiple conspiracies, but the trial judge denied our motion.  The prosecution had it’s way in overcharging on this issue.  But that didn’t pass muster with the appeals court.  In ruling for the defense the court repeated basic principles.

Whether a single conspiracy or multiple conspiracies existed in a given circumstance is a question of fact determined by reference to the
totality of the circumstances. See United States v. Fields, 72 F.3d 1200, 1210 (5th Cir. 1996); 16 AM. JUR. 2D Conspiracy § 11 (2002).  As the
United States Supreme Court noted long ago, “the character and effect of a conspiracy [are] not to be judged by dismembering it and viewing
its separate parts, but only by looking at it as a whole.” United States v. Patten, 226 U.S. 525, 544 (1913).

58 M.J. 824, 826-27 (Army Ct. Crim. App. 2003) (footnote omitted); see also Braverman, 317 U.S. at 53 (1942) (“The one agreement cannot be taken to be several agreements and hence several conspiracies because it envisages the violation of several statutes rather than one”); Pereira, 53 M.J. at 184 (“A single agreement to commit multiple offenses ordinarily constitutes a single conspiracy.”).

The factors used to determine the number of conspiracies include: “(1) the objectives and (2) nature of the scheme in each alleged conspiracy; (3) the nature of the charge and (4) the overt acts alleged in each; (5) the time and (6) location of each of the alleged conspiracies; (7) the conspiratorial participants in each; and (8) the degree of interdependence between the alleged conspiracies.” Finlayson, 58 M.J. at 827.






Another of my ongoing noting of civilian cases which reference or rely upon military appellate decisions.  I do this partly because it is an example of transparency and why it is needed in the military.  When using Lexis or other search functions you are going to come up with military cases – if you have the access.

In Wilson v. United States, No. 13-CM-564, (D.C. Court of Appeals, 6 November 2014), the appellant sought reversal based abuse of discretion in failing to suppress evidence gained after an illegal arrest.

The court denied the appeal, and in the process cited United States v. Marine, 51 M.J. 425 (C.A.A.F. 1999) to support its decision.  Yes, the accused in Marine was a marine.

Can a failure to file a pretrial motion equal ineffective assistance of counsel?  The BLUF is yes in some cases.  In some instances I have argued IAC on appeal for failing to make a meritorious motion.  The NMCCA has issued an interesting opinion in United States v. Spurling, in which they discuss this important issue.  The opinion appears to be an en banc one although not labeled as such – Sr. Judge Ward writes for a majority of five, with three dissenters in an opinion written by Judge King.  The issue of IAC for failure to raise a pretrial motion is neither novel nor rare.  Many of my appellate clients raise a question about why the defense counsel didn’t fil a particular motion.  I am about to file one in a case (citing United States v. Grostefon) where the client complains that the defense counsel did not file a motion to dismiss certain charges.  A more common issue is a motion to suppress, or speedy trial, or UCI.

  1. Spurling claimed IAC because his counsel did not litigate his admissions. Interestingly both counsel admitted they didn’t even catch the issue:  [Counsel] failed to “recognize the issue based on [her] lack of experience, the work load at the time, and never having argued an Article 31 issue[.]”
  2. Capt B concurs, stating that had the issue occurred to him “[he] would have proposed filing it.”
  3. Both TDC acknowledge that it was not until after participating in a post-trial debrief with the military judge, who asked whether they had filed a suppression motion, that they recognized the issue.

So how is this admitted “failure” to be reviewed. The court states the standard as a need to show a reasonable probability the motion would be a success, and this must be a substantial chance, not a mere probability. United States v. Jameson, 65 M.J. 160 (C.A.A.F. 2007); United States v. McConnell, 55 M.J. 479, 482 (C.A.A.F. 2001).  Without this finding, there is no IAC even if there is an error, because there is no prejudice.  However, the dissenters, expressed through Judge King would set aside the findings and sentence on the IAC issue. The court then goes into the ongoing issue of when is a person acting within a official capacity. Finding no substantial likelihood of success on the motion the court finds no harmful and prejudicial error.  There has been some discussion already on the requirement to advise a person of their Article 31, UCMJ, right to silence.

Expect to see Spurling at CAAF, potentially as a trailer.

Spurling wins something on the inappropriate sentence – a set aside of the BCD.

Do you have to raise every single motion?  No.

Do you have to raise every single motion the client asks you to?  No.

I wonder what the MJ would have done if the counsel had asked for a post-trial session to litigate the motion at that time, if for no other reason than to make a record for appeal?  We know the MJ can hold such a hearing.


No this is not a comment on T. Scott McLeod’s book. Nor is it a comment on how to make providence work in your favor, although by the results it could be.

Oh, sorry.  Ya gotta read United States v. Stout, decided by ACCA on 25 July 2014.

The accused plead guilty to abusive sexual contact with a 14 year old, indecent liberty with a child, and possession of child porn, all violations of the UCMJ and prosecuted at court-martial.  The MJ gave him a BCD and 8.  ACCA determined the MJ erred in accepting any of the pleas and set aside the findings and sentence.

As you start to read the opinion you are initially thinking he’s minimizing – as did the court initially think.  You’ve been there right, as a military defense lawyer – tell the judge just enough, etc., etc., etc.

The court reminds of the very point about how an accused who minimizes during the providence inquiry doesn’t necessarily have an improvident plea.  The court said some single or minor inconsistency may be mere attempts by appellant to rationalize his actions, insufficient to invalidate the providence of the plea. Ultimately Stout’s statements went beyond minimization and set up substantial inconsistencies.  I might add that if the facts are as Stout and the stipulation say, this is not a case that should have been prosecuted.  But it’s 2014 and . . . (insert rant if you care to). The Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) cites to United States v. Goodman, 70 M.J. 396 (C.A.A.F. 2011); United States v. Rokey, 62 M.J. 516 (A. Ct. Crim. App. 1995), as authority.

Often an accused is reluctant to admit to a particular aspect of an offense. However, that should not vitiate his guilty plea if he recognizes that the evidence against him will prove the point, and he admits his guilt to the offense. We should not overlook human nature as we go about the business of justice. One aspect of human beings is that we rationalize our behavior and, although sometimes the rationalization is “inconsistent with the plea,” more often than not it is an effort by the accused to justify his misbehavior. A good trial judge can usually sort out the guilty plea and determine if an accused is so pleading because he has committed the offense charged.

United States v. Hall, 73 M.J. 645, 648 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2014).

I always knew there was a reason – other than the case name – why we old timers refer to the Care inquiry (along with other names such as Suzuki credit, Allen credit, etc., etc., etc.). The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has over time ensured that before an accused can plead guilty to a UCMJ offense at court-martial, there must be a very careful inquiry of the facts and circumstances. When a military judge fails to conduct a careful inquiry which leads to inconsistency issues, the decision will be reviewed for an abuse of discretion.

I wonder where the TC was in all of this – not putting up a stout defense of the record apparently.  Message to TC, you have a duty to your client to protect us from an errant judge.  You need not feel intimidated and remain silent when the military judge asks you and the military defense counsel if you want any additional questions.

For client Sgt Brown, with the assistance of his military defense lawyer we have secured a dismissal of some charges and a new trial on the remainder.  In United States v. Brown, the NMCCA issued an opinion on 30 June 2014, which addressed three of eight errors we raised: multiplicity of charges, validity of a false official statement, and improper use of character evidence which substantially prejudiced the defense.  Because of the court’s resolution of these errors they did not address the remaining five.

The court concluded that because of the prosecution and judge failures, “The findings and sentence are set aside.  Charge II and its sole specification (false official statement) are dismissed with prejudice.  A rehearing on the remaining charges is authorized.”

1.  On the multiplicity the court stated that, “we note that the Government concedes on appeal that it is “well established that the simultaneous possession of several weapons constitutes only one offense” for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). ”

2.  The military appellate courts have been taking a hard look at the issue of what is or isn’t a “official statement” for purposes of a UCMJ prosecution at court-martial.  The NMCCA has evaluated the facts in Brown’s case and determined that the circumstances surrounding his alleged false statements were not official.

 While these conflicting accounts paint a confusing picture of what exactly was said, the two clearly had an official duty to keep custody of the appellant.  But an informal conversation over sandwiches, one that GySgt T characterized as having nothing to do with his function as the legal officer, bore no bearing to any dialogue necessary to the appellant’s detention.  We therefore conclude that this statement lacked officiality within the meaning of Article 107, UCMJ.

3.  The more important decision of the court related to errors in the admission of adverse character evidence.  Essentially the prosecution offered and the military judge admitted a number of allegations about Brown’s character that is best described as evidence of predisposition.  Under the circumstances of this case predisposition evidence is inadmissible.

This case illustrates several points.

1.  The defense must be alert and object to efforts by the prosecution to adduce improper character evidence.  In this case the military defense counsel do a decent job at trial at objecting and preserving the issues.

2.  The prosecution has to be careful in seeking to prove guilt by offering inflammatory character information.  When they do that they risk taking a winnable case and making appellate issues.

The CAAF has decided United States v. Paul, 74 M.J. ___ (C.A.A.F. May 29, 2014)(CAAFLog case page).  The granted issue was:


BLUF:  We conclude that the evidence presented at trial was not legally sufficient to support a conviction for using 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine in violation of Article 112a, UCMJ. We further hold that the CCA erred in taking judicial notice of a missing element of the crime charged.

The first step in CAAF’s analysis was to decide that – yes – the evidence was legally insufficient for the finding of guilty. CAAF discussed and affirmed the obvious, that the trial counsel had failed to have evidence admitted showing the underlying drug which comprised the ecstasy in this case was on the controlled substances lists.  “In short, the Government’s evidence did not make the essential connections among ecstasy, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, and Schedule I.”  Slip op. at 8.

The court then turns to the judicial notice issue and immediately “affirm[s] that an appellate court can take judicial notice of law and fact under certain circumstances.”  Slip op. at 10.  The court cites to a SCOTUS case, the Rules Advisory Committee Notes, and its own case of United States v. Williams, 17 M.J. 207 (C.M.A. 1984).

The court states the problem that AFCCA “took the “extraordinary step” of taking judicial notice of an element not proven by the Government.”  Slip op. at 11.  Such a step is error and is not justified because there was a failure of notice and opportunity to be heard and the AFCCA judicially noted an element of the offense. Id.

CCA’s and CAAF may still take appellate judicial notice.  Future litigation, if trial counsel continue to fail will likely be focused on what the court means with the statement:

a CCA might generally take judicial notice of an undisputed fact or question of domestic law that is important to the resolution of an appellate issue, it cannot take judicial notice of facts necessary to establish an element of the offense.

Similar to what the court said thirty years ago in Williams:

Judicial notice is a procedure for the adjudication of certain facts or matters without the requirement of formal proof. It cannot, however, be utilized as a procedure to dispense with establishing the government’s case.

The court relied heavily on the due process issue and Williams.  Williams was a case where the government failed to introduce or get judicial notice of a regulation banning the sale of marijuana.

The new Mil. R. Evid. may not apply to any offense committed prior to it’s effective date?  Is there an argument that application to an offense prior to the effective date violates the ex-post facto clause.  See Calder v. Bull, 100 U.S. 1 (1798).

Article I, section 9 of the United States Constitution states in relevant part that “[n]o Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed,” and, in its opinion in Calder v. Bull, the Supreme Court recognized four types of laws that cannot be applied retroactively consistent with this Ex Post Facto Clause:

1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3d. Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed. 4th. Every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offence, in order to convict the offender.

Here is Prof. Colin Miller TG’s blog on the retroactive application of FRE 413-414.

In addition to oral argument in Vazquez (link to argument here), the court issued several opinions of relevance to military trial and appellate practitioners:  what are the “rules” and standards for IAC in regard to pretrial negotiations.

Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye.

the Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals of Missouri and remanded the case for further proceedings. By a vote of five to four, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel ex­tends to the consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected and that that right applies to “all ‘critical’ stages of the criminal proceedings.”  Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Alito.


the Court vacated the decision of the Sixth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. Also by a vote of five to four, the Court held that where counsel’s ineffective advice led to an offer’s rejection, and where the prejudice alleged is having to stand trial, a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice, there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer’s terms would have been less severe than under the actual judgment and sentence imposed. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined and in which Chief Justice Roberts joined as to all but Part IV. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion.

h/t SCOTUSBlog  for the above quick summaries.

Here is the lead in to Frye by Justice Kennedy.

The Sixth Amendment, applicable to the States by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that the accused shall have the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions. The right to counsel is the right to effective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 686 (1984).  This case arises in the context of claimed ineffective assistance that led to the lapse of a
prosecution offer of a plea bargain, a proposal that offered terms more lenient than the terms of the guilty plea entered later.  The initial question is whether the constitutional right to counsel extends to the negotiation and consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected.  If there is a right to effective assistance with respect to those offers, a further question is what a defendant must demonstrate in order to show that prejudice resulted from counsel’s deficient performance.  Other questions relating to ineffective assistance with respect to plea offers, including the question of proper remedies, are considered in a second case decided today. See Lafler v. Cooper[.]

Neither of the two cases relate to Denedo/Padilla or Miller issues.

The inquiry then becomes how to define the duty and responsibilities of defense counsel in the plea bargain process. This is a difficult question.

Frye Slip op. at  8.

This Court now holds that, as a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused.

Frye Slip op. at 9.

I don’t know about others, but I’ve always considered this to be the rule for courts-martial.  I can’t see how you can properly represent an  accused and not pass on PTAOs that have originated from the government.  Here the counsel didn’t pass on the offer.  The case is remanded for the appellant to show prejudice:  that he would have accepted the offer, it wouldn’t have been cancelled, and the judge would have accepted the plea.  This error ought to be reasonably infrequent.

Lafler is the harder case.  The appellant was advised of the deal.  But on the advice of counsel rejected the deal, went to trial, and got a heavier sentence.  Strickland’s two prong analysis applies.  It appears the parties agreed that the counsel’s advice was so wrong to be IAC.  Lafler, slip op. at 1.  That means the issue was how to apply Strickland and prejudice.  The court went into a lengthy discussion of the potential remedies but ultimately “remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

I see Lafler generating some post-trial litigation – and the potential for a quagmire.  Does counsel provide IAC when she recommends turning down a PTA prior to the 32?  Or does the IAC have to relate to a PTA that is closer in time to the trial when the investigation is complete, there has been sufficient discovery, and there has been a fuller case development?  In other words how much information does the defense counsel have to have to properly advise on a deal.  Keep in mind that the government is usually pretty restrictive on discovery in the early stages of a case.  How much extra time is prejudicial.  In Lafler the appellant was sentenced to 3.5 times more confinement.  What if it’s a SPCM.  Counsel recommends turning down an offer for four months and the accused is convicted and sentenced to six (a 50% increase)?  What if it’s a GCM.  Counsel recommends turning down an offer of one year for pleas to a sexual assault, fraternization, providing alcohol, adultery, and 107.  The accused is then acquitted of the sexual assault (so no registration), is convicted on everything else, and then gets 18 months (a 50% “penalty” for turning down the deal)?   Can something like this not happen in courts-martial?

Here is how the media is casting the decisions.

Defendants who receive deficient or absurdly bad plea bargaining advice from their lawyers have had their constitutional rights violated and may have their sentences thrown out[.]

Huffington Post

The U.S. Supreme Court said for the first time that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer when they are offered a chance to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Voting 5-4, the justices today sided with two men who say they received inadequate legal advice. One said his lawyer never told him of a plea offer, and the other said his attorney convinced him he couldn’t be convicted of intent to murder because the victim was shot below the waist.

Bloomberg News

A divided Supreme Court on Wednesday laid out new standards for criminal plea bargains, saying defense lawyers must do a competent job advising and informing their clients of prosecutors’ offers of less prison time for convictions and guilty pleas.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a rare move, dissented aloud from the bench, calling the decisions "absurd" and warning courts would be flooded with appeals from criminals now claiming their plea bargain rights were violated, despite the fact that there is no legal right to a plea bargain.

Associated Press