This site is for the trial practitioner (the military lawyer) of military justice, and for the information of U.S. active duty, Guard, and reserve service-members, their spouses and their families. Our goal is to focus on trial practice issues in cases arising under the UCMJ and being tried at court martial. We hasten to add that nothing on this blog should be taken as specific legal advice for a specific client.

Military veterans keep secrets from the battlefield. But retired Marine Richard Cachola’s refusal to reveal details of a traumatic experience he had while serving in Iraq — and the mental health treatment he received as a result — put him at risk of losing custody of his children.

“My PTSD has no relationship to my ability to be a father,” Cachola said, after declining to provide court-ordered mental health records of his PTSD history in family court.

Cachola’s case reflects why child-custody disputes can be complicated, especially if one spouse has been diagnosed with a mental illness resulting from war. Family court judges must balance a parent’s right to privacy with the best interest of the children involved.

As I have argued, for some time in courts-martial, sex offender registration is effectively a punishment in today’s society–despite what legislators and courts say.  Well, now we have an interesting decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 3-1 decision, about ex post facto changes to SOR.

[T]he provisions of the state’s sex offender registration law (SORNA) [are] unconstitutional under the state and federal constitutions, according to the majority in Commonwealth v. Muniz held that 1) SORNA’s registration provisions constitute punishment notwithstanding the General Assembly’s identification of the provisions as nonpunitive; 2) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions violates the federal ex post facto clause; and 3) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions also violates the ex post facto clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The bottom line here for me is that various courts are now holding that SOR is punitive.  I argue that as the reason an accused should be able to raise SOR requirements in sentencing and that the members should not be given a “Talkington” instruction.

The DoD Joint Service Committee on Military Justice has some new “publications” on its website.  But more importantly, there are a number of proposed changes not yet on their site (but which are available on CAAFLog).

The military does not have Alford pleas.

In an Alford Plea, the criminal defendant does not admit the act but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge. The court will pronounce the defendant guilty. The defendant may plead guilty yet not admit all the facts that comprise the crime. An Alford plea allows the defendant to plead guilty even while unable or unwilling to admit guilt. One example is a situation where the defendant has no recollection of the pertinent events due to intoxication or amnesia. A defendant making an Alford plea maintains his innocence of the offense charged. One reason for making such a plea may be to avoid being convicted on a more serious charge. Acceptance of an Alford plea is in the court’s discretion.

The military requires a person to plead not guilty or, if they plead guilty, they must engage in a detailed discussion on the record with the military judge.  In that discussion, the person must give facts supporting the charge, agree that they committed the offense, and waive several constitutional rights.  See United States v. Care, 18 C.M.A. 535, 40 C.M.R. 247 (1969); United States v. Hayes, 70 M.J. 454 (C.A.A.F. 2011).

By order of the Chief Judge, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will be closed all day on Monday, July 3, 2017.  For purposes of computation of time and motions to enlarge time under the Court’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, July 3, 2017, will be considered a day when the Court is officially closed.  While not a preferred status, you have an extra day if butting up against the due date.

In 2002, Lester Packingham became a convicted sex offender at the age of 21, after he pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child – having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Packingham got into hot water with the law again in 2010, when he posted on Facebook to thank God for having a traffic ticket dismissed. After a police officer saw his post, Packingham was prosecuted and convicted under a North Carolina law that makes it a felony for a convicted sex offender to use social-networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, that allow minors to create accounts. Today Packingham has something else to be grateful for, and he can take to social media to express that appreciation because the Supreme Court agreed with him that the North Carolina law violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

So writes Amy Howe on SCOTUSBlog, about Packingham v. North Carolina.

I have discussed before how very difficult it is for an appellant to get a federal court to review and overturn a court-martial conviction.

Here is Randolph v. United States, a federal circuit case reviewing an attempt to get relief via the Court of Federal Claims.

The United States Department of the Navy (Navy) dishonorably discharged Jerome Randolph, the pro se appellant, after a court-martial convicted him for sexual assault and falsifying a statement about that assault. After this discharge, Mr. Randolph repeatedly sought expungement of his court-martial conviction, as well as an award of back pay and an upgraded discharge status, before the Board for Correction of Naval Records (Board). The Board denied him any relief. He ultimately filed suit against the United States (government) in the United States Court of Federal Claims (Claims Court) seeking the same relief he sought from the Board, as well as claiming relief from defamation. The Claims Court concluded that, in light of his court-martial conviction, the Board reasonably refused to award him back pay and upgrade his discharge status. The Claims Court also held that it had no jurisdiction to expunge his court-martial conviction or to proceed with his defamation claim. Even after we broadly construe Mr. Randolph’s arguments on appeal, we affirm.

The CAAF daily journal for 15 June 2017 has this entry:  No. 17-0003/AR. U.S. v. Christopher B. Hukill. CCA 20140939. On consideration of Appellee’s petition for reconsideration of this Court’s decision, United States v. Hukill, 76 M.J. 219 (C.A.A.F. 2017), it is ordered that said petition for reconsideration be, and the same is, hereby denied.

To refresh.

CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Hukill, 76 M.J. 219, No. 17-0003/AR (slip op.beside-link-icon), on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. A short opinion reiterates the rationale of United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F. Jun. 27, 2016) .  “[T]he use of evidence of charged conduct as M.R.E. 413 propensity evidence for other charged conduct in the same case is error, regardless of the forum, the number of victims, or whether the events are connected.” Slip op. at 6. CAAF reverses the decision of the Army CCA that found Hills inapplicable in judge-alone trials, reverses the appellant’s convictions, and authorizes a rehearing.