CAAF reverses conviction for rape with prejudice because the Coast Guard improperly selected a panel saturated with women.
On 23 January 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) overturned a conviction for rape and other charges in the Coast Guard case United States v. Riesbeck. When Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (E-5) Riesbeck went to his court-martial in 2012 for allegedly raping a woman, he faced a seven member panel that included five women, four of whom were victim advocates. This was not a coincidence. The Coast Guard Convening Authority responsible for selecting the panel, did not use the proper Article 25, UCMJ criteria during his selection. He admitted to looking for diversity and wanted to put as many women on the panel as possible. In his words, he thought it was “very important” to have a “large number of women” on the panel in this sexual assault case. The defense counsel in this case after seeing the makeup of the panel objected asserting that “that there was no ‘conceivable, rational or logical reason’” for the panel to include all those women and victim advocates. The military judge denied the objection stating that it was untimely. The judge also commented that the issue could be worked out on appeal. Appellant did appeal to the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, but that court affirmed the conviction and sentence stating that he waived his right to appeal. Then CAAF heard this case. The CAAF reversed this case stating that the Convening Authority obviously “stacked” the panel. In their opinion, they held that “purposefully selecting a panel that is seventy percent female, most of whom are victim advocates, from a roster of officers that was only twenty percent female and a pool of enlisted that was only thirteen percent female, smacks of a panel that was ‘hand-picked’ by or for the Government.” The CAAF also went on to describe how the evidence in this case was weak. It was a case where the female making the allegation was drinking alcohol and could not remember many of the details of what occurred. Based on the absurdity of the panel, as well as the weak evidence, CAAF reversed this case. Not only did CAAF reverse the conviction and sentence in this case, but they did it with prejudice. This means that there will not be another trial on this allegation and this E-5 is free to go. He will get many months of back pay and can continue to serve if he so desires. This case shows that CAAF is looking for fair court-martials. They are willing to overturn a case even when a rape allegation is involved if the appellant did not have a fair trial. If you or your loved one did not have a fair trial, you should consider appealing your court-martial. I have a great deal of experience in trying court-martials and appealing them to both the service appellate courts and to CAAF. Call today and we will talk through your case. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.