Are military law enforcement investigations complete, thorough, and unbiased? It depends. The MCIO leadership and agents will tell you they are. Our experience over the years both as military defense counsel and military prosecutors is that investigations can be incomplete, with leads not followed, evidence not retrieved, and bias in the reports submitted to prosecutors and the command. For example, the reports tend to focus on the bad things about you and ignore what might be helpful to you or your case. We call these instances of biased investigations as affected by confirmation bias. Many times, this doesn’t make a lot of difference. But, in sexual assault cases, a biased and incomplete investigation can lead to problems for the defense—and also for the prosecution. The recent Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) decision in United States v. Horne is an example of how things can go wrong and, in your case, might create serious problems if something similar happened during your investigation.

According to the appellate decisions, the special victim counsel (SVC) and the trial counsel (TC) tried to discourage investigators from interviewing a witness. It worked for a while during which time it appears the witness had a less clear memory of events. The TC thought the witness might have “exculpatory” information which they are obligated to disclose to the defense and which might be helpful to the accused.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) decision has an extensive review of the facts and circumstances of what happened. Ultimately, the Air Force court and CAAF decided while it was wrong, there was no prejudice against the accused. This case represents how a prepared and aggressive military defense lawyer can help protect you and the record. Sadly, this could happen to you. It is not clear if the SVCs and TCs will learn anything from this case to study their practices and comply with the law and ethics rules. We shall see. The CAAF has these words,

My argument is no, and as military defense lawyers, this is our position at a court-martial trial held under the UCMJ.

In State v. Terrance Police, 2022 Conn. LEXIS 123 (May 10, 2022), the issue was whether “touch DNA” was good enough for probable cause to get an arrest warrant. Here is the important part of the decision saying it wasn’t.

[T]he DNA evidence used to describe the suspect was not a single source sample known to have come from the perpetrator. Rather, it was “touch DNA,” also known as “trace DNA,” from multiple sources that might or might not have come from the perpetrator—something the police simply had no way of knowing when they applied for the John Doe arrest warrant. Notably, the state has not identified a single case, and our research has failed to uncover one, in which mixed partial DNA profiles from touch DNA provided the description of a suspect in a John Doe arrest warrant. Touch DNA “is a term used to describe DNA that is left behind just by touching an object …. Notwithstanding its name, however, touch DNA does not necessarily indicate a person’s direct contact with the object. Rather, according to [experts], abandoned skin cells, which make up touch DNA, can be left behind through primary transfer, secondary transfer, or aerosolization.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Dawson, 340 Conn. 136, 153, 263 A.3d 779 (2021). Even when a person touches an object, “DNA is not always detectable, meaning that it is possible to have someone touch an object but not leave behind detectable DNA because … some people leave more of their skin cells behind than others, i.e., some people are better ‘shedders’ of their DNA than others. There are also other factors that affect the amount of DNA left on an object, such as the length of contact, the roughness or smoothness of the surface, the type of contact, the existence or nonexistence of fluids, such as sweat, and degradation on the object.” Id., 154. 

Probably not successfully based on AV2 v. McDonough, No. 22-369, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72609 (D.D.C. April 20, 2022) and E.V. v. Robinson, 906 F.3d 1082, 1086 (9th Cir. 2018) certiorari den. 140 S.Ct. 501, 205 L. Ed. 2d 316 (2019).

In each of these cases, a military judge had granted discovery of mental health information that the alleged victims claimed was protected by Mil. R. Evid. 513, in other words, the military judge was wrong. They had sought relief from the Court of Criminal Appeals and from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces without success.

The basis for seeking a writ was essentially that

Well, calls for change to the new changes for the prosecution of sex crimes have already begun. During the Conference over the NDAA FY 22, sexual harassment was removed from the list of covered offenses under the jurisdiction of a special trial counsel (STC). But, the President was tasked to enumerate an offense of sexual harassment under UCMJ art. 134. The President did so (along with other changes) in Executive Order 14062, of January 26, 2022, Annex at 21.

  • (1) That the accused knowingly made sexual advances, demands or requests for sexual favors, or knowingly engaged in other conduct of a sexual nature;
  • (2) That such conduct was unwelcome;

Does the defense in a court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) have to give discovery about your defense to the prosecution? Yes, sometimes.

There are several rules set out in the Manual for Courts-Martial that your military lawyer or civilian defense counsel knows about. The rules are contained in Rule 701.

Special defenses.

Last year the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure Judicial Conference of the United States requested public comment on proposed changes to several rules of evidence. On page 299 of the request, you will find the proposed evidence rules. We are most interested in Rule 702, which deals with experts and expert testimony.

The Daubert case was an effort to make the trial judge the gatekeeper of expert testimony to make sure it was reliable and relevant. However, the military appellate courts adopted Daubert and added their factors to consider over time. From this, we, or your military defense lawyer, will make Houser motions from time to time. United States v. Houser, 36 M.J. 392 (C.A.A.F. 1993) sets out six factors a judge should use to determine the admissibility of expert testimony.

  • Qualified Expert. Expert witness must qualify as an expert because of some special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. See e.g., United States v. Roach, __ F. 3d ___ (8th Cir. 2011). Eighth Circuit noted Rule 702 does not rank academic training over demonstrated practical experience. An individual can qualify as an expert where he possesses sufficient knowledge gained from practical experience, even though he may lack academic qualifications in the particular field of expertise.

February 14, 2022, U.S. v. E-3, United States Air Force, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.  Airman is accused of sexually assaulting two different Air Force enlisted women and is placed into pretrial confinement.  After being retained to defend the Airman, Mr. Freeburg is able to show through numerous witness interviews that there were serious issues with one accuser’s story and that the other accuser had only made her allegation after she was caught committing adultery with a different Airman.  After extensive litigation, the Air Force agrees to a Chapter 4 discharge instead of court-martial.
Result: No Federal Conviction, No Sex Offender Registration, No Dishonorable Discharge.
Great effort by partner Nathan Freeburg.

In United States v. Ferreira. ARMY MISC 20220034 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 28, 2022) The government has filed for and received a stay of proceedings in this case based on the military judge’s decision in United States v. Dial,” that he will instruct the jury that they must have a unanimous vote for guilty to any of the charges.

The government has petitioned for a Writ of Prohibition as they have done in Dial. Here is a link to the government’s petition filed in United States v. Dial, ARMY MISC 20220001 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 4, 2022).

In 1775, the Second Continental Congress adopted the British Articles of War for the Continental army. The Articles did not require unanimous verdicts in courts-martial findings. That a military jury can find a service member guilty with less than unanimous votes remains the law. That law now conflicts with the law in all U.S. jurisdictions since the Supreme Court decided the case of Ramos v. Louisiana in 2020.

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