Army Court of Criminal Appeals overturns sexual assault convictions and sets aside sentence due to trial counsel’s improper arguments.
On 18 August 2015, in United States v. Garcia, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) overturned convictions of rape and forcible sodomy due to the prosecutor’s improper arguments during her closing argument and rebuttal. In this case, four different female Soldiers alleged that appellant maltreated them by sexually harassing them. Additionally, another female Soldier alleged that appellant invited her to a bed and breakfast in Germany and then raped and sodomized her there. During the trial, the alleged rape victim testified and the defense cross examined her in reference to her discovery that the Veteran’s Administration (VA) might provide benefits to someone who was sexually assault in the service. Defense insinuated that she made the allegations in order to obtain these benefits. In response to this, the trial counsel asked her, during her testimony, if the trial process was “fun” for her. She, naturally, stated that the process was not fun. Also, during trial, appellant’s young son testified as part of appellant’s defense stating that the female Soldier alleging rape and sodomy spent the day touring the German town with him and appellant after the alleged rape occurred.
During her closing argument and rebuttal, ACCA found that trial counsel made three categories of improper argument. First, ACCA decided that she made an “impermissible spillover argument” when she referenced the fact that appellant had also invited one of the other female Soldiers to a bed and breakfast just like the female he allegedly raped and sodomized. Second, ACCA decided that the trial counsel improperly referenced appellant’s constitutional right to trial when she made negative remarks about his choice to have his young son testify and made remarks about how the alleged victim had been re-victimized by having to go through a trial that was not “fun” for her. Finally, ACCA determined that her argument created the appearance of unlawful command influence when she reminded the panel that sexual assault is at the “forefront of what we are trying to battle against in the Army today.” If it had not been for the trial counsel’s comments during her argument, this case may not have had a successful appeal. This goes to show that sometimes a valid appeal may be present just based on the government’s actions and words during the trial. I have a vast amount of experience with court-martials and court-martial appeals. I know when to object at a court-martial and what issues to appeal later. Call today if you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or needs to appeal one. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.