Child molestation case dismissed with prejudice due to the government’s egregious discovery violations.
On August 20, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) affirmed the dismissal of a case with prejudice in United States v. Stellato, because the government trial counsel did not fulfill his discovery obligations. In other words, CAAF punished the government for the trial counsel’s utter disregard for his obligations, leaving the accused to walk free. In this case, the accused, a mobilized Army reservist was accused of molesting his biological daughter from the time that she was two until when she turned five. The trial counsel in the court-martial committed continuous discovery violations throughout the process. Among these included a failure to respond to defense’s questions regarding the existence of mental health records. Additionally, the government opposed the defense’s request to interview a young girl who claimed to be present during the alleged assaults and alleged that she was also assaulted. CAAF found that the government’s position with regard to this witness was “untenable.” Also, the trial counsel was significantly delayed in his response to the defense’s request to inspect a plastic banana which had allegedly been used by the accused on the alleged victim. The banana was held by civilian authorities and the government had the responsibility to allow the defense team to inspect the evidence in a timely manner. Finally, probably the most significant discovery violation committed by the trial counsel, involved a box kept by the alleged victim’s mother. During one of the trial counsel’s interviews of the alleged victim’s mother, she offered the trial counsel a box that contained numerous items that were highly relevant to the case. Apparently, the box contained notes between her and the alleged victim, as well as a letter from the victim recanting her claims that the accused sexually abused her. Obviously, the evidence contained in that box was relevant and crucial to the defense case. The trial counsel refused the evidence offered by the mother. In fact, he cautioned the mother of the alleged victim that “everything [he got] will go to the defense.” CAAF found that with regard to this box of evidence, the trial counsel remained “willfully ignorant” and that by failing to inspect and disclose this evidence he violated his discovery obligations. The military judge after learning of these continuous violations by the trial counsel dismissed the court-martial with prejudice. The government appealed the military judge’s decision and the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) overturned the military judge’s decision. However, CAAF reversed ACCA and affirmed the military judge’s decision to dismiss the case with prejudice. The actions by the trial counsel were outrageous in this case. This dismissal with prejudice demonstrates that CAAF is willing to let an accused walk away in order to ensure that the government abides by its obligations and does not interfere with the rights of an accused. If you or your loved one believes that their court-martial should be appealed, call me now. I can help you both at the court-martial level and in your court-martial appeal. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.