CAAF reverses three Air Force sexual assault convictions in one day.
Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) reversed three different Air Force cases based on their 2016 holding in United States v. Hills. In Hills, CAAF held that if a servicemember is charged with more than one sexual offense in a court-martial, one charge cannot be used as “propensity evidence” to show that one of the other charges occurred. More specifically, the Court held that Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 413 cannot be used as “a mechanism for admitting evidence of charged conduct to which an accused has pleaded not guilty in order to show a propensity to commit the very same charged conduct. CAAF held the military judge erred in allowing the propensity evidence in Hills and that this error was constitutional error because it “violated appellant’s presumption of innocence and right to have all findings made clearly beyond a reasonable doubt.” Ultimately, in Hills, CAAF held the military judge’s error in giving this instruction was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Ever since that decision the service appellate courts have been applying Hills, but often doing it in unpredictable ways. The three Air Force cases, U.S. v. Robertson, U.S. v. Rice and U.S. v. Campbell were reversed all in one day based on Hills. In each one of these cases, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) found that the military judges erred by allowing one sexual offense charge to be used as propensity evidence supporting a totally unrelated sexual offense charge. In each of these cases, however, the AFCCA found that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The CAAF reversed these cases stating the AFCCA was wrong to determine that the error was harmless and did not contribute to the verdict. These reversals show that the CAAF stands firm behind their holding in Hills. It also shows that if the government cannot meet their burden to show that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will reverse the appellate court’s decisions. If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or want to appeal a court-martial you need someone with experience who knows what to argue on your behalf. I have argued this very issue and numerous other issues in front of appellate courts and CAAF. I have the experience you are looking for. Please call me for help. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.