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Article 134 charges in a court-martial are tricky…make sure you hire someone with experience to defend you.

A case that is currently being appealed to The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) has caught my attention.  The case is U.S. v. Thomas and involves an officer who faced court-martial charges that alleged violations of Article 134.  The court-martial charges were defectively written because they did not allege in the writing the terminal element that the conduct was “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”  When this case was appealed to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) it became evident that the defense counsel at the court-martial level allowed his client, Captain (CPT) Thomas, to plead guilty to two of those defective court-martial charges without ever mentioning their defectiveness.  Therefore, of course, CPT Thomas was found guilty of those defective court-martial charges along with some charges that he pled not guilty to.  Following an appeal, ACCA affirmed all of the findings and sentence specifically because CPT Thomas pled guilty.  On July 2, 2013, CAAF reversed ACCA’s decision with regards to the defective Article 134 court-martial charges to which CPT Thomas pled “not guilty.”  In reversing this ACCA decision, CAAF cited to United States v. Gaskins, which is a trial and appeal where I served as the civilian defense counsel and was successful in getting a similar defective Article 134 charge set aside.  See May 31, 2013 blog.  CAAF has granted the petition for appeal with regards to the defective Article 134 court martial charges that CPT Thomas pled guilty to, but there is no guarantee that those charges will be ultimately set aside due to the fact that CPT Thomas pled guilty to those court-martial charges based on advice from his counsel.  It is difficult to tell why the defensecounsel in this case would advise his client to plead guilty to defective court-martial charges, but the point of this blog is not to attack the defense counsel in that court-martial.  The point of this blog is that court-martials are complicated.  If you are facing court-martial charges, you need to receive advice from an experienced attorney.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

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