Nullification of PTC credit

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.

Note: trial defense counsel did not object at trial! So, the NMCCA reviewed for plain error. Slip op. at 10. See United States v. Halpin, 71 M.J. 477, 479 (C.A.A.F. 2013); United States v. Pabelona, 76 M.J. 9, 11 (C.A.A.F. 2017).

The NMCCA cited United States v. Balboa, 33 M.J. 304 (C.M.A. 1991) for the proposition that the sentencing authority may consider pretrial confinement as mitigation or aggravation. Slip op. at 13. Ultimately the NMCCA found no error and gave no relief. But again, trial defense counsel had not objected.

Based on our superior court’s holding in Balboa, we cannot say that it was plain error for the trial counsel to argue that the members should increase their sentence to confinement for the express purpose of nullifying the Allen credit determined by the military judge in order, ostensibly, to permit the appellant to complete five years of treatment. Notwithstanding the C.A.A.F.’s language in Balboa, however, we would not condone a trial counsel’s effort to “appeal” a military judge’s Allen or Article 13 credit determination to members. Our holding might be different in a case where the issue was properly
preserved for appeal.

In Balboa, Senior Judge Everett observed:

It seems curious (and more than coincidental) that the confinement adjudged was “68 days, plus 12 months”—not 14 months or 15 months—when the court-martial members knew that their announced sentence to confinement would be reduced by precisely 68 days. This Court does not need an appellate crystal ball to discern the real likelihood that, as a practical result of the members’ action, appellant has been denied the legally required credit for his pretrial confinement.

Balboa, 33 M.J. at 307-08 (Everett, S.J., concurring).

It would seem that the current law may now be that while an accused should get credit for PTC, it is not required if the sentencing authority doesn’t think it appropriate. We’ll have to see if the issue comes up again similar to the facts of Howell with a defense counsel objection. I would imagine Navy TCAP will make much ado about Howell and you may well see the issue again.

So, consider,

  • Asking the MJ not to advise the members of any pretrial confinement credit?
  • Move in-limine to prohibit TC arguing for nullification? Note, Howell is a retrial case. So it’s possible that there will be significant PTC in any retrial case. My other concern is that the advice to members about PTC gives them information or guidance on what the prior trial adjudged–something not raised in Howell.
  • Object!