CAAF decision

CAAF has decided United States v. Collier, __ M.J. ___ (C.A.A.F. 2009).

This case presents the question whether the military judge erred in granting the government’s motion in limine prohibiting Appellant’s defense counsel from cross-examining HM2 C, the main Government witness, about an alleged homosexual romantic relationship between her and Appellant and from introducing any evidence of such a relationship.1 While the military judge did permit cross-examination about a close friendship, the defense that Appellant wanted to present was that HM2 C framed Appellant for larceny as a result of their romantic relationship ending badly. Because of this ruling, Appellant was free only to assert the motivation of an angry friend rather than a disappointed lover; as the Government then argued in its closing, the motivation of an angry, vengeful friend “strains all logic; it’s just not credible.”

The military judge’s ruling prevented Appellant’s counsel from fully exploring HM2 C’s bias and motive to misrepresent the truth, and precluded Appellant from presenting her theory of the case. Under the facts of this case, this was a violation of Appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront a witness against her.

This was clearly the correct result in this case.  There is a substantial qualitative difference between friendship and a sexual or romantic relationship.

And of course, having won a battle the prosecution couldn’t resist over-reaching.

Adding insult to injury, the Government exploited the very evidentiary limitation it requested in closing argument. “Are
we supposed to believe that [HM2 C] or somebody else went out and spent $2,700.00 on tools to set this up because she’s mad at somebody? That strains all logic; it’s just not credible.”

Yes, it may do so, but not if the defense had been permitted to offer the full motives to lie.