Articles Posted in Worth the Read

We all laugh at TV shows and movies which we think of as fantasy.  The CSI shows, NCIS, JAG, among .  We ..get a laugh out of them.  But reality may make you cry.

Nathan J. Robinson, Forensic Pseudoscience: The Unheralded Crisis of Criminal Justice.  Boston Review, November 16, 2015.

This past April, the FBI made an admission that was nothing short of catastrophic for the field of forensic science. In an unprecedented display of repentance, the Bureau announced that, for years, the hair analysis testimony it had used to investigate criminal suspects was severely and hopelessly flawed.

. . .

In more than 95 percent of cases, analysts overstated their conclusions in a way that favored prosecutors. The false testimony occurred in hundreds of trials, including thirty-two death penalty cases. Not only that, but the FBI also acknowledged it had “trained hundreds of state hair examiners in annual two-week training courses,” implying that countless state convictions had also been procured using consistently defective techniques.

But questions of forensic science’s reliability go well beyond hair analysis, and the FBI’s blunders aren’t the only reason to wonder how often fantasy passes for science in courtrooms. Recent years have seen a wave of scandal, particularly in drug testing laboratories. In 2013 a Massachusetts drug lab technician pled guilty to falsifying tests affecting up to 40,000 convictions. Before that, at least nine other states had produced lab scandals. The crime lab in Detroit was so riddled with malpractice that in 2008 the city shut it down. During a 2014 trial in Delaware, a state trooper on the witness stand opened an evidence envelope from the drug lab supposedly containing sixty-four blue OxyContin pills, only to find thirteen pink blood-pressure pills. That embarrassing mishap led to a full investigation of the lab, which found evidence completely unsecured and subject to frequent tampering.

United States v. Dreyer.  A decision from the Ninth.

On issues arising from the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA), the en banc court affirmed the district court’s denial of a suppression motion, and remanded to the three-judge panel for consideration of remaining issues, in a case in which the defendant was convicted of one count of distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.

A special agent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) conducted an investigation into computers in Washington state sharing child pornography by utilizing a software query that encompassed the entire state but did not isolate or look for military service members. The investigation revealed that the defendant, a civilian, had shared child pornography files, and the NCIS passed that information along to the local police department.

The en banc court reaffirmed the holding in United States v. Chon, 210 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2000), that the NCIS and its civilian agents are subject to PCA-like restrictions proscribing direct assistance to civilian law enforcement.  The en banc court held that the NCIS agent’s investigation violated PCA-like restrictions[.]

Here is another case where a military prisoner has sought habeas corpus relief, in the Kansas District Court (the Tenth Circuit).

Valois v. Commandant, USDB

The case provides a fascinating discussion of the maze and complexities of DoD and Service regulations the award of good time credit, work abatement, and such, applicable to clients confined at the USDB.

Valois challenges the amount of good conduct time (“GCT”) credit that will be administratively deducted from his sentence.

On June 30, 2006, Valois was transferred to the United States Disciplinary Barracks (“USDB”) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is presently serving his sentence. On May 11, 2010, Valois filed a claim for administrative relief with the Commandant of the USDB, contesting the amount of good time that was being credited against his sentence. This request was denied on May 12, 2010. Valois repeated the request on May 14, 2010, and it was again denied on May 26, 2010. On June 17, 2010, Valois filed a complaint under Article 138 of the UCMJ on June 17, 2010, which was denied on August 5, 2010. He filed additional Article 138 complaints on June 8 and 28, 2011, both of which were denied. On September 12, 2012, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals denied his pro se Writ of Habeas Corpus without prejudice due to lack of counsel. Valois submitted a motion for reconsideration but on February 11, 2013, sought dismissal. Four days later, on February 15, 2013, Valois filed the instant petition.

In his petition, Valois asserts two arguments. First, he contends he is entitled to GCT credit of ten days rather than five days per month. Specifically, he contends that the Secretary of the Air Force has the authority to determine the award of GCT, and that Air Force Joint Instruction (“AFJI”) 31-215, which provides for GCT at the rate of ten days per month, controls. Valois argues that later amendments or modifications to AFJI 31-215 were either invalid or have expired. Second, Valois argues that changes in GCT after his conviction constitute an ex post facto violation of the Constitution.

The arguments asserted by Valois are related. First, he contends that Congress has authorized the Secretary of each military service group to establish military correctional facilities and provide regulations for their operation. From this, he reasons that the Secretary of the Air Force controls the award of GCT. Next, Valois contends that Air Force regulations, not those of the Department of Defense (“DoD”), control his GCT. He argues that DoD regulations, which purportedly amended the Air Force regulations, are not valid because they expired and were not properly activated again. Finally, based upon these arguments, Valois contends that the less generous GCT rate under the DoD regulations illegally increases his time in confinement in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Court first examines the maze of GCT regulations that the Air Force and DoD have issued over the last 50 years. These regulations are not always uniform and their effective dates and subsequent cancellations are often difficult to discern. The Honorable Richard D. Rogers has previously explained the problem with military regulations on issues of parole and GCT:

[T]he military regulations governing parole and good time for prisoners at the USDB are difficult to locate and decipher. Piecemeal changes have been made numerous times; some are Department of Defense directives while others are Army and Air Force regulations. Some contain disorganized provisions on the same subject, some are poorly written with seeming inconsistencies, and some subjects seem not to be adequately addressed. These regulations are not in the Code of Federal Regulations or available to the court through normal research channels. Instead, the court must rely on excerpts selected by the parties and provided with the pleadings.

Young v. Nickels, 59 F. Supp.2d 1137, 1139 (D. Kan. 1999).

Like military counsel, “With some trepidation, the Court enters the military labyrinth of regulations.”  After entering and leaving that labyrinth the court denies relief.

Part of Valois’ claim is that he received IAC when taking his PTA because he was wrongly advised of his likely good time credit.  The court cites to United States v. Griffitts, No. 201000673, 2011 WL 4985719 at * 4 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 20, 2011)(defense counsel’s mistaken reliance on outdated Navy instruction which awarded ten days GCT credit did not lead to improvident plea and was not ineffective assistance of counsel).

I’m a believer in Restorative Justice.  In America The Vengeful this is an approach much derided and ignored.  In my view that means the exacters of “justice” don’t really care much about the victim.  Anyway, there are many facets to the concept one of them is repairing what has been done wrong.  For the victim this may well include receiving a genuine apology.  The problem in criminal cases is when to make the apology.  I have developed several ways to do this without the apology becoming evidence.  Here is an interesting article about the timing of the apology (and it’s consistent with part of my approach).

Michael C. Jones, Can I Say I’m Sorry? Examining the Potential of an Apology Privilege in Criminal Law. Comprehensive Law – Fall 2012 Phoenix School of Law.


David A. SchlueterAmerican Military Justice: Responding To The Siren Songs For Reform.  73 A.F. LAW REV. 195 (2015).

In Greek mythology, a “siren” was a creature—half bird and half woman— that would lure sailors to destruction with their sweet and enticing songs.  Today, the American military justice system is being subjected to sweet and enticing calls for reform—siren songs.  At first hearing, the well-intentioned proposed reforms appeal to a sense of justice. On closer examination, however, those proposed reforms threaten the essence and functionality of an effective and efficientsystem of criminal justice that is applied in world-wide settings, in both peacetime and in war.

Proposals to change the American military justice system have generally come in waves, following major military actions, which tended to expose those elements or features of the system which had not worked well, or in the minds of the reformers, could be made better.

. . .

This article divides the proposed reforms into three categories and analyzes why the proposed changes to the military justice system should be rejected, in whole or in part.

The Gazette of Colorado Springs has an article on the current USAFA sexual assault case.  It’s worth the read because of its misinformation, or perhaps lack of understanding.  So here goes with some comments.

1.People are upset because it’s odd the hearing was closed for quite a bit of time.  Duh.  Of course it’s closed:

But a series of contentious, closed-door hearings has delayed the case.

The arguments have centered on the privacy of the alleged victim. Defense attorneys want to admit evidence about the woman’s sexual past and have sought access to medical records, including those from a psychotherapist.

It’s closed because of UCMJ art. 32 and the Rules of Evidence–all of which Congress and the President by Executive Order have directed, and which POD has called for.  How then can the military be criticized for what the law, good sense, and sensitivity to the complaining witness requires?

2. It’s a paper 32–hello that’s all too common and may become even more common now that a complaining witness can refuse to testify.  Duh

Protect Our Defenders weighed in on the Chubb case in May after one of the stranger preliminary hearings in the academy’s history. During the hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to court-martial the highly touted football recruit from Georgia, neither prosecutors nor Chubb’s attorney’s offered witnesses.

The entire proceeding was handled on paper, which wasn’t made public.

In 35 years of military justice practice I’ve had (as a prosecutor or defense counsel) plenty of paper 32 drills. Who among you hasn’t?  This will happen more likely to happen in sexual assault cases these days because the CW can refuse to testify.  The evidence for the probable cause then becomes witness statements, emails, texts, and audio recordings.  That’s the way it works–and frankly that’s what Congress wants, so it is possible to avoid fair hearings.

3. Brian Purchia, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., advocacy group, said the prosecution’s handling of the hearing raised concern.

Really.  And he has how much military justice experience?  Did he not talk to POD’s ED retired judge advocate Christensen before he made this statement?  Sure, it may be unusual because he does not recognize the Rules are changed as a direct result of the Congressional actions and the very advocacy of POD the organization he represents.  They can put in a FOIA request can’t they.  True, it may get refused for various reasons.

(W)e seem to be on an endless quest to unmask the deceiver. This is easier said than done. The research is surprising.

  • Even the professionals aren’t very good at catching people in a lie.
  • When we do catch a lie, it’s often not for the reasons you may expect.
  • There is no “Pinocchio’s nose”. That is, there is no single verbal, nonverbal or physiological cue uniquely related to deception.

See, Grimes, infra.

Some may be familiar with how military law enforcement tells commanders and other how they can spot a liar.  There has always been a healthy suspicion about this so-called ability.  Here is some current reportage that is a useful reminder to challenge their assumptions.

David Robson, The best (and worst) ways to spot a liar, BBC, 7 September 2015.

Thomas Ormerod’s team of security officers faced a seemingly impossible task. At airports across Europe, they were asked to interview passengers on their history and travel plans. Ormerod had planted a handful of people arriving at security with a false history, and a made-up future – and his team had to guess who they were. In fact, just one in 1000 of the people they interviewed would be deceiving them. Identifying the liar should have been about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack.

Using previous methods of lie detection, you might as well just flip a coin

So, what did they do? One option would be to focus on body language or eye movements, right? It would have been a bad idea. Study after study has found that attempts – even by trained police officers – to read lies from body language and facial expressions are more often little better than chance. According to one study, just 50 out of 20,000 people managed to make a correct judgement with more than 80% accuracy. Most people might as well just flip a coin.

Ormerod’s team tried something different – and managed to identify the fake passengers in the vast majority of cases. Their secret? To throw away many of the accepted cues to deception and start anew with some startlingly straightforward techniques.

Bill GrimesLooking for Lying in All the Wrong Places, The Jury Expert, 28 Aug. 2015.

In 2006, two of the premier researchers in the field of deception detection, Charles Bond and Bella DePaulo, re-examined the results of over two hundred studies on how well people detect lying. They found that people were able to detect lies 54% of the time. You’d get 50% right by pure chance, so that’s not very impressive (Bond & DePaulo, 2006). Another study tested 13,000 people to see how many of them were good at spotting lies (O’Sullivan, 2008). Thirty-one were good at it. That is 2-tenths of one-percent (.02%), again, not very impressive.

Research also shows that lie experts – police interrogators, customs agents, even lawyers – aren’t any better at detecting lying than anyone else (Bond & DePaulo, 2006). Decades of research show that lie detection is a near-chance game (emphasis added).

You should be aware that there is a dispute about these issues, some of which is reflected in Michael G. Aamodt Ph.D.; Heather Custer M.S., Who Can Best Catch a Liar?: A Meta-Analysis of Individual Differences in Detecting Deception.  15 (Spring) FOR. EXAMINER, at 6 (2006).

The problem is that the CCA’s don’t do that enough.  But at least they have the power.

In United States v. Quick:

The underlying issue is whether Article 66(d), UCMJ, authorizes the CCAs to order sentence-only rehearings. The government argues that the CCAs do not have that authority and asks that we overrule this court’s decision in United States v. Miller, 370 C.M.A. 296, 27 C.M.R. 10 (1956), in which we specifically recognized the authority of the CCAs to order sentence-only rehearings. The government asserts that Miller was wrongly decided in light of Jackson v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 569 (1957).

As the gubmint’s oft-stated “it’s too hard” argument CAAF said:

As noted in Miller, sending a case to CCAs for a sentenceonly rehearing is somewhat cumbersome, as a new court must be assembled and informed of the facts. 10 C.M.A. at 299, 27 C.M.R. at 373. However, a process that is cumbersome does not equate to a process that is unworkable. The very fact that the CCAs have been ordering sentence-only rehearings for over sixty years demonstrates the workability of the process.

Along with deciding the issue, CAAF made a couple of comments interesting to those students of CAAF’s stare decisis belief.

  • We do not believe that Miller was so poorly reasoned that it should be reversed on that basis alone, particularly when it has been accepted by and relied upon by both the legislative and executive branches of government in the intervening years.
  • Legislative history does not support overruling.
  • A long supportive history following the case sought to be overruled and thus an argument for consistency.  But, one asks, what about Fosler?
  • The Supreme Court has held that stare decisis “is the preferred course because it promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.” Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827 (1991); see also Tualla, 52 M.J. at 231. As noted, the Miller rule has been in effect for over sixty years and during that time has become accepted procedure in the military justice system. It has provided a predictable and consistent appellate remedy for both litigants and the lower courts to follow.  (Fosler anyone?)
  • (Note from the two dissenting judges)  The fundamental error in the court’s analysis was in according the policy of stare decisis an aspect of flexibility that it does not have. A precedent-making decision may be overruled by the court that made it or by a court of a higher rank. That discretion, however, does not reside in a court of a lower rank. United States v. Allbery, 44 M.J. 226, 228 (C.A.A.F. 1996)

The Supremes anyone?