The tipsy judge? I don’t think so, but possibly an unfortunate meme

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has decided the case of United States v. Heath, adverse to the appellant.  The question to be resolved “is whether SPC XX’s testimony was admissible as a prior consistent statement.”

The case has a fairly sparse discussion but worth reading because of its resolution of an evidentiary issue under the new Mil. R. Evid. 801.  The court applied the “Tipsy Coachman Doctrine” to find the military judge arrived at the correct result, even if for the wrong reason.  The TCD is explained more fully in United States v. Carista, 76 M.J. 511 (Army Ct. Crim. App. 2017).

The principle is sometimes referred to as the “tipsy coachman” doctrine. See, e.g., Robertson v. State, 829 So. 2d 901, 906 (Fla. 2002) (“This long-standing principle of appellate law, sometimes referred to as the ‘tipsy coachman’ doctrine, allows an appellate court to affirm a trial court that ‘reaches the right result but for the wrong reasons’ so long as ‘there is any basis which would support the judgment in the record.'”) (citation omitted). Georgia Supreme Court Justice Bleckley quoted Oliver Goldsmith’s 1774 poem, Retaliation, to illustrate the concept.

It may be that we would draw very different inferences [from those drawn by the trial court], and these differences might go to uphold the judgment; for many steps in the reasoning of the court below might be defective, and still its ultimate conclusion be correct. It not infrequently happens that a judgment is affirmed upon a theory of the case which did not occur to the court that rendered it, or which did occur and was expressly repudiated. The human mind is so constituted that in many instances it finds the truth when wholly unable to find the way that leads to it.

76 M.J. at 515.