Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals reviews possible improper government sentencing evidence.
In United States v. Gomez, a Coast Guard case, appellant argued before the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals (CGCCA) that the testimony of two of the alleged female victims in his case provided improper sentencing evidence. At his court-martial, Gomez was charged with several sexual harassment charges and sexual assault charges involving several different female crewmembers. Two of the females that he was found guilty of sexually touching were either pregnant or recently pregnant when they testified during the sentencing phase of the court-martial. The government trial counsel asked each of these women about the stress the court-martial process had had on their pregnancies and unborn children. One of the women testified during sentencing that she was pregnant with twins and one of the twins died. She further stated that she was concerned about the stress that the trial process might have on the twin that was still alive inside of her. The other woman testified that her baby had just been born prematurely. She stated that she had been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia during the pregnancy and was told that this condition can be caused by stress. She, like the other alleged victim, testified that she had been stressed about the court-martial process. The defense counsel did not object to either testimony during the sentencing phase. Under Rules for Court-Martial (R.C.M.) 1001(b)(4), during sentencing, the government may present evidence “as to any aggravating circumstances directly relating to or resulting from the offenses of which the accused has been found guilty.” The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) ruled in 2009 that this evidence could include victim impact testimony relating to the affects of the investigative or trial process. However, CAAF has also ruled that an accused cannot be “responsible for a never-ending chain of causes and effects.” In reviewing this case, the CGCCA held that it is possible that the evidence provided by the two women regarding the stress on their babies may have been too attenuated or too prejudicial to be admissible under R.C.M. 1001(b)(4). However, the court ruled that because the defense counsel did not object at the court-martial, they could not conclude that the military judge allowing the evidence was plain error. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is going to review this issue in this case. If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial, you need experienced counsel by your side. I have that experience. I certainly know when to object and when to appeal a court-martial. Call me now, I can help you or your loved one with an upcoming court-martial or 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.