Articles Posted in Appeals

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.

An accused in pretrial confinement awaiting trial receives day for day credit toward any sentence to confinement. In the old days, we referred to that as “Allen credit.”

Note, an accused may not automatically get credit for time spent in civilian jail–that needs to be litigated at trial. See United States v. Harris, __ M.J. ___, 2019 CAAF LEXIS 361 (C.A.A.F. 2019).

Which brings us to United States v. Howell, NMCCA, 2019. On appeal, Howell argued that the prosecution wrongly argued to nullify his pretrial confinement credit.

SCOTUSBlog reminds us of some upcoming criminal law cases in the coming term.  While generally interesting, the case to watch is:

In Gamble v. U.S., the court will consider whether to overrule the “separate sovereigns” exception to the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides that “[n]o person shall … be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life and limb.” The common understanding of this awkwardly written clause is that a person may not be tried twice for the same offense. But despite the absolute-sounding nature of the constitutional text, the Supreme Court has ruled for well over a century that the clause allows “separate sovereigns” to each try a single defendant for what sure sounds like the “same offense.”

This case is before us for a fourth time. The petitioner, a former service member, seeks extraordinary relief from this court in the nature of a writ of error coram nobis or, in the alternative, in the nature of a writ of audita querela, under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a). The petitioner avers that his appellate defense counsel were ineffective in representing him by failing to raise as error Military Rule Of Evidence (Mil. R. Evid.)413, Manual for Courts-Martial, United States (2005 ed.) issues raised at trial. Alternatively, he asserts that even if his appellate defense counsel were not ineffective and no writ of error coram nobis should issue, a writ of audita querela should issue to prevent continued enforcement of his conviction—and the resulting sex offender registration requirements—in light of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces’s (CAAF) decision in United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. 2016). The petitioner claims Hills should apply retroactively to his case.

Burleson v. United States, No. 200700143, 2018 CCA LEXIS 87, at *1-2 (N-M Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 26, 2018).

Audita querela is a latin term meaning “the complaint having been heard.” A defendant can seek a rehearing of a decided matter due to the newly discovered evidence or newly existing legal defenses, through a writ of audita querela. A writ of audita querela attacks a judgment that becomes incorrect later because of circumstances that arose after the judgment was issued.

Daniel Epps, Harmless Errors and Substantial Rights.  131 HARV. L. REV. 2117 (2018).

The harmless constitutional error doctrine is as baffling as it is ubiquitous. Although appellate courts rely on it to deny relief for claimed constitutional violations every day, virtually every aspect of the doctrine is subject to fundamental disagreement and confusion. Judges and commentators sharply disagree about which (and even whether) constitutional errors can be harmless, how to conduct harmless error analysis when it applies, and, most fundamentally, what harmless constitutional error even is — what source of law generates it and enables the Supreme Court to require its use by state courts. This Article offers a new theory of harmless constitutional error, one that promises to solve many of the doctrine’s longstanding mysteries.

Those of us who engage with discharge reviews, correction boards, and federal court on behalf of service-members are used to reading about the presumption of regularity–it’s a regular defense by the gubmint to an applicants claim.

“I was improperly discharged.”

A: “We can’t find any record of your discharge.  Because of that we consider you properly discharged, because we presume the command did it right.  No, we can’t and don’t have to explain why there is no record of this.”

During trial, the defense counsel make many decisions; sometimes there is an objection to evidence, sometimes not.  How the appellate courts deal with allegedly inadmissible evidence depends on whether there was an objection at trial.

If there is an objection the appellate court looks to see if the evidence was objectionable, whether the judge abused his discretion in overruling the objection, and if the error was harmful or harmless (prejudice).

If there is no objection the appellate court may apply the plain error rule.

Since United States v. Hills, and then United States v. Hukill, the appellate courts have been trying to sort out quite a few cases on remand.  Here is a list of the most recent CAAF actions.

No. 18-0087/AF. U.S. v. Jonathan P. Robertson. CCA 39061. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, and in light of United States v. Guardado, 77 M.J. 90 (C.A.A.F.2017), it is ordered that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL PROPENSITY INSTRUCTION IN THIS CASE WAS HARMLESS BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.

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