Case of interest

From time to time I bring attention to a civilian case that may be of interest to practitioners. Mostly these are post-CAAF cases arising from the USDB. So today I have Coleman v. Commandant., decided 22 November 2019, in the USDC Kansas.

This matter is a pro se petition for habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Petitioner was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Because Petitioner is confined at the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, this matter was transferred to this Court from the District of North Dakota. Petitioner seeks to set aside his 2012 conviction by general court-martial, based on the holdings in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. 2016) and United States v. Hukill, 76 M.J. 219 (C.A.A.F. 2017).

Petitioner, a former active duty member of the United States Air Force, was tried in September 2012 by general court-martial at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Contrary to his pleas, Petitioner was convicted of one specification of rape, three specifications of aggravated sexual assault, and one specification of forcible sodomy, in violation of Articles 120 and 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”), 10 U.S.C. §§ 920, 925. Petitioner was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, confinement for twelve years, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a reduction to the grade of E-1. On March 1, 2013, the convening authority approved the sentence.

Factually it’s a sexual assault case common to our practice.

The conviction and sentence was affirmed through the normal military appellate process. After Hills was decided Coleman filed a coram nobis with AFCCA which was denied and CAAF summarily denied the writ-appeal petition.

In USDC Coleman sought retroactive application of Hills and Hukill.

The DC court states the rule

Petitioner’s conviction is final, and his current habeas case is before the Court on collateral review. When a decision results in a new rule, “that rule applies to all criminal cases still pending on direct review,” but “[a]s to convictions that are already final . . . the rule applies only in limited circumstances.” Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 351 (2004) (citation omitted).

The first exception to non-retroactivity is for new substantive rules which may be applied retroactively. Coleman loses on this basis.

A more limited exception for procedural rules is one that is a “watershed [change] to rules of criminal procedure” which implicate both the accuracy and “the fundamental fairness” of the criminal proceeding. Teague, 489 U.S. at 311-15. To qualify as a watershed rule, it must meet two requirements: First, the rule must be necessary to prevent an impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction; second, the rule must alter our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of the proceeding. Coleman loses on this basis also.

As appellate counsel know, USDC Kansas and the 10th sees the bulk of military collateral challenges. The law in the circuit is very deferential to the results of a military conviction and appeal.

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