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. “