Articles Posted in Appeals

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.

According to SCOTBlog:

The question of how to count the votes of the justices to decide who won a Supreme Court case – and on what ground – when the court is splintered has baffled lower courts for years. The rule laid out in Marks v. United States purports to answer that question: “When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by the Members who concurred in the judgment on the narrowest grounds.”

As a practical matter, the Marks rule has compounded rather than cured the confusion surrounding plurality precedent. Yet time after time when the Supreme Court has been confronted with an opportunity to clarify or abandon the Marks rule, it has failed to do so. More often than not, the court simply ignores the rule entirely, leaving lower courts in a hapless interpretative state each time the Supreme Court hands down a plurality decision. This could all change when the court decides Hughes v. United States, which is scheduled for argument on March 27.

Of interest to military justice practitioners is a new grant of certiorari at the U. S. Supreme Court today.  SCOTUSBlog reports:

Issues: Whether, and under what circumstances, the erroneous submission of a deliberate-ignorance instruction is harmless error.

When the Congress, the media, and commanders called for a crackdown on military sexual assaults, the fear among the defense bar was the specter of unlawful command influence.  Most of the cases have focussed on pretrial and post-trial.  But the biggest fear was realized in United States v. Schloff, a case I did at trial and on appeal.

“At the beginning of deliberations on findings of appellant’s court-martial, the president and senior ranking member of the panel, [COL JW], made a statement to the effect that based on the political climate, the Army could not seem weak or soft in dealing with sexual harassment or assault. He also asked a question to the effect of, ‘How does the Chief of Staff of the Army’s current emphasis on sexual harassment affect the findings and our decision in this matter?’ [COL AM] made some unspecified but similar comments or comments indicating agreement with [COL JW].

Although we have an independent duty to determine the question of UCI de novo, we concur with the DuBay military judge that actual and apparent UCI occurred and the government failed to establish “beyond a reasonable doubt that UCI . …. was not improperly brought to bear on any member during the findings phase of [appellant’s] court-martial.” As correctly noted by the DuBay military judge “[COL JW] injected policy and career concerns into the deliberations [and h]e did so despite the military judge’s clear guidance that the case be decided solely on the evidence presented in court and the instructions on the law given by the military judge.” The UCI was a “palpable cloud throughout the deliberations” left to permeate in each panel member’s decision-making process. “