Air Force Court Reverses Housebreaking and Threat Conviction

This summer, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals heard the case of United States v. Dixon. Airman Basic Dixon had been convicted of housebreaking and communicating a threat at general court-martial. Dixon appealed his conviction, claiming that his convictions were not legally or factually sufficient. The Court agreed and set aside his convictions and dismissed the charges with prejudice.

Airman Basic Dixon was attending an entry level school where he was given a student leadership position. One night, Dixon became suspicious that a male student was in a female student’s dorm room. This was a violation of the school rules. Dixon waited in the hallway to see if the male student left the female student’s room, but did not see him. Then he wrote a note about the suspected violation and pushed it under the door of the female student’s room. When that did not get the attention of the occupants, Dixon retrieved the master key and opened the door to the female students room and stepped in to place the note further into the room.

The male student was, in fact, inside the female student’s room. The two students woke up and saw Dixon in the entrance to the room. The two also saw the note left by Dixon. The note stated that Dixon was obligated to report their rule violation. It also said that he would not report the violation in exchange for unspecified “cooperation” from the female student. He asked her to send a message if she agreed to this “deal.”

At trial, the Government prosecuted Dixon for housebreaking. This offense requires two elements: 1) the unlawful entry of the property of another; and 2) the unlawful entry was made with the intent to commit a crime. The Government charged that Dixon unlawfully entered the female student’s room with the intent to commit the crime of communicating a threat. The Government separately charged Dixon for communicating a threat. Communicating a threat has four elements: 1) the communication of certain language expressing a present determination or intent to injure the person, property, or reputation of another person; 2) the communication was made known to that person or a third party; 3) the communication was wrongful; and 4) the conduct was prejudicial to good order and discipline. The Government charged that Dixon threatened to injure the reputation of the female student when he threatened to report her rule violation.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals analyzed whether the note constituted a wrongful threat. The Court determined that a threat to truthfully reveal the female student’s actual misconduct was not wrongful under the law. The Court found the offense of communicating a threat to be factually insufficient. Because the offense of housebreaking required that Dixon enter the room with the intent of committing the crime of communicating a threat, the Court set this offense aside too. Without a wrongful threat, this second element could not be met.

The Air Force appellate court set aside both offenses and dismissed both charges with prejudice. As a result, Airman Basic Dixon cannot be tried for those same offenses again. If you or your loved one wants to appeal a court-martial conviction, you need someone with experience who knows the law. I have the experience you need. Please call Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.

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