Any experienced military appellate lawyer will tell you that the chances of winning on appeal can be low, depending on the issues raised in the appellate briefs. The hardest issue to have a court of criminal appeals dismiss the charges because they did not find there was enough evidence to sustain and conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

That is what happened for us and our appellate client in a just recently decision by the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

The Appellant was charged with possession and distribution of CP (contraband images). The prosecution’s first attempt to get a conviction failed when the military judge abated the trial. The military judge did that because there was a lot of critical evidence that had been lost or destroyed by the police. The prosecution appealed that decision and the Air Force Court granted the prosecution’s appeal. So, the trial recommenced. After a contested trial the client was convicted.

It is reported by Stars & Stripes that the NDAA for 2025 will include a provision barring testing for marijuana of new applicants for military service.

The NDAA proposal’s idea is that the marijuana testing requirement discourages potential recruits from enlisting. This concern is particularly significant because the Services are currently facing recruiting challenges. By removing this barrier, the provision aims to attract a larger pool of applicants, potentially addressing the recruiting problems.

Preservice drug use can be a bar to enlistment. It depends on what drug, how often, and how close in time to the application process. It was not unusual to hear of recruiters telling a poolee to say they only experimented with the drug when applying. With that statement, a waiver could be possible. The benefit to the recruiter was getting an enlistment and meeting her quarterly quota.

A 2024 GAO Report to the Committee on the Armed Services, House of Representatives tells you all you need to know to justify hiring an experienced military defense law firm to represent you at court-martial.

Senior officials from each service also raised concerns about the newly established Office of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC) and the likelihood that it will exacerbate issues of inexperience within certain litigation positions. Generally, judge advocates are expected to become eligible for assignment to the OSTC after 2 to 4 years of litigation experience. OSTC experience standards, coupled with the limited number of litigators who meet these requirements, will likely force the services to rely on inexperienced litigators to serve as defense counsel or other positions that lack similar requirements. Further, these officials stated that the focus on OSTC experience standards could lead to a potentially significant imbalance in the experience levels of defense and prosecution assigned to litigate the same case.

Those of us who appear in cases as civilian military defense counsel have been saying this for years.

Military service is a noble calling, but it can also lead to complex legal situations. When facing accusations or disciplinary actions, having experienced legal representation is crucial. Cave & Freeburg, LLP stands firmly behind service members across all branches (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) with a proven track record of success in a wide range of military legal issues. Here’s how Cave & Freeburg, LLP can be your military defense lawyer and advocate:

1. Court-Martial Defense:

A court-martial is a serious matter that can result in a dishonorable discharge, imprisonment, and a ruined career. Cave & Freeburg, LLP brings decades of combined experience to your defense. Their attorneys have a deep understanding of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and extensive experience navigating the complexities of court-martial trials and appeals. They will:

U.S. Navy Regulation 1137 focuses on the obligation of service members to report offenses. It states: “Persons in the naval service shall report as soon as possible to superior authority all offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which come under their observation, except when such persons are themselves already criminally involved in such offenses at the time such offenses first come under their observation.”

This regulation applies to Marines as well, as per Headquarters Marine Corps guidance. However, there’s an additional wrinkle related to civilian arrests and convictions.

Reporting Civilian Arrests and Convictions

Evidence can get lost or destroyed before trial and thus is unavailable to the defense. It depends on what that evidence is and what remedy there is for the loss. A primary question is what is the importance of the lost evidence for the defense, does it mean the accused can’t get a fair trial, and so what remedy must the judge apply? It also makes a difference when the evidence was lost or destroyed and who lost or destroyed the evidence.

The issue is very important because by the time an accused gets the opportunity to do anything about it, much time has passed. Investigations take months before anyone in the defense counsel team knows that and more months before the issue can be presented to a judge. This is why at Cave & Freeburg we have started sending evidence preservation requests as soon as we get the case.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has issued significant cases on this issue which should be a starting point for a military defense counsel in evaluating the meaning and consequences of lost or destroyed evidence: Simmermacher and Stellato.

The UCMJ: A Frankensteined Military Justice

Over the past decade, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has undergone significant change. Driven by headline-grabbing scandals and shifting political winds, Congress has stitched together a Frankensteinian monster of legislation, leaving a system with contradictions, unintended consequences, and a looming shadow over due process.

A History of Frankensteinian Tinkering:

The recent firing of Brigadier General Warren Wells, the Army’s first-ever lead special trial counsel, casts a shadow of doubt over the future of the special trial counsel and the defense counsel in the military justice system. While Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth cited a “loss of trust and confidence” stemming from an old email expressing skepticism about false allegations, the implications for fair trials and due process run deeper. Here’s why the decision raises concerns for the independence of special trial counsel and the integrity of the military justice system:

Chilling Effect on Independent Military Defense:

Wells’ email, albeit controversial, highlighted legitimate concerns about potential false claims and the need for rigorous evaluation beyond accusations alone. He was at the time serving as an Army Regional Defense Counsel (RDC) supervising a group of military defense counsel. If you are facing an Army court-martial, you will meet or have met an Army Trial Defense Service attorney whom an RDC is supervising. The reason for firing Wells sends a chilling message to defense lawyers whose duty it is to challenge the prosecution narrative, scrutinize evidence, and advocate zealously for clients. Secretary Wormuth’s action may create fear and self-censorship, inhibiting defense counsel from fulfilling their ethical duty to their clients and undermining the adversarial process that safeguards justice. Out of self-interest, they might not take legitimate action in their representation for fear that years later, what they said or did may affect their career.

This week we received the decision of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals of a client accused of homosexual sexual assaults.

He had been convicted and sentenced to 14 years of confinement.

We raised many issues during his appeal. The Army Court found a serious error by the military judge in denying the defense presenting evidence of other sexual acts of the alleged victim. This issue usually comes up in a Military Rule of Evidence 412 motion. Here, the military judge botched it.

On December 6, 2023, the Secretary of the Army, Ms. Christine Wormuth, fired Brigadier General (BG) Warren Wells, the Army’s chief prosecutor and head of the Office of the Special Trial Counsel (OSTC), for an email he had sent ten years prior while in a defense counsel role. This firing demonstrates that no military defense counsel can be certain that doing their job and defending you will not come back to haunt them down the road. It will always be in the back of their minds.

In 2013, Warren Wells was a Lieutenant Colonel and a Regional Defense Counsel supervising the Senior Defender Counsel at several Army bases and their subordinate military defense counsel. He sent an email to his Senior Defense Counsel on various defense matters that included a paragraph commenting on the pressure put on the Army by Congress and the media to send sexual assault cases to trial and then stated that they, as defense counsel were the last line of defense for the innocent. Ten years later, when Ms. Wormuth read the email, she found this sentiment so outrageous that she fired BG Wells within hours!

Today, every military defense counsel knows (especially in the Army) that something they do or say in your defense can be held against them in the years to come when they are up for promotion or in a different position as a JAG. The military branches try to have independent defense counsel while they are in defense counsel positions, but as the BG Wells story illustrates: nothing protects them when they are no longer in a defense counsel position. Your military defense counsel will hopefully do their best to represent you anyway, but he or she is not conflict-free, no matter how hard they try.

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