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,