New ACCA unpublished opinion

United States v. Stanley.

The appellant raised eight errors through counsel and an additional six in accordance with United States v. Grostefon.

One assignment of error warrants discussion, but no relief.   Specifically, appellant alleges that the military judge erred by failing to properly instruct the panel regarding appellant’s right during mutual combat to exercise self-defense when the force used against him escalated.  Today we find that any error by the military judge was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and affirm the findings and sentence.

First some basics:

A military judge is required to instruct the members on special (affirmative) defenses “in issue.”  Rule for Courts-Martial [hereinafter R.C.M.] 920(e)(3).  A matter is “in issue” when “‘some evidence, without regard to its source or credibility, has been admitted upon which members might rely if they choose.’”  United States v. Lewis, 65 M.J. 85, 87 (C.A.A.F. 2007) (quoting R.C.M. 920(e) Discussion, and United States v. Gillenwater, 43 M.J. 10, 13 (C.A.A.F. 1995)).

I would add that this is a sua sponte duty.

[T]he military judge has a duty to instruct the factfinders on it, regardless of defense theories or requests.  Any doubt whether the evidence is sufficient to require an instruction should be resolved in favor of the accused.

United States v. Steinruck, 11 M.J. 322, 324 (C.M.A. 1981).

[A]n affirmative defense is not waived by a mere failure to request it.

United States v. Buckley, 35 M.J. 262, 265 (C.M.A. 1992), citing to United States v. Taylor, 26 M.J. 127, 129 (C.M.A. 1988).

So in Stanley,

At the close of evidence on findings the military judge gave extensive instructions, including self-defense and defense of another.  Based on the evidence presented at trial, appellant now claims that the military judge should have instructed on two additional theories.  First, the military judge should have instructed the panel that a mutual combatant has the right to escalate violence under certain circumstances without losing the right to self-defense.  Second, the military judge should have instructed the panel that some mutual combatants may be unable to withdraw, and therefore retain their right to self-defense.

The court appears to distinguish Lewis and Gillenwater because a clear distinction is

the fact that none of appellant’s three defense counsel objected to the instructions given, nor asked for any additional instructions.

Basically the court concludes that no amount of additional instructions on self-defense would have lead to an acquittal because the evidence was so overwhelming.  That’s essentially the Van Arsdall harmless beyond reasonable doubt issue.  See United States v. Roberts, 69 M.J. 23 (C.A.A.F. 2010).

As to affirmative waiver of instructions, usually to LIO’s, see e.g.,  United States v. Duncan, 36 M.J. 668 (N.M.C.M.R. 1991); United States v. Strachan, 35 M.J. 362, 364 (C.M.A. 1992) (Instructions on lesser-included offenses are required unless affirmatively waived by the defense); United States v. Moore, 12 U.S.C.M.A. 696, 31 C.M.R. 282 (1962)(defense counsel affirmatively indicated his desire to withdraw his request for the instruction and, thereby, waived the instruction).  But see,  United States v. Taylor, 26 M.J. 127 (CMA 1988)(passive waiver); and United States v. Miergrimado, No. NMCCA 200501128 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 22, 2007), rejecting application of United States v. Waldron, 9 M.J. 811 (N.M.C.M.R. 1980), aff’d, 11 M.J. 36 (C.M.A. 1981), allowing the defense to choose whether to go all or nothing.

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