Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reverses my client’s conviction and sentence based on improper use of propensity evidence.
The year 2018 has started off with a good news story! I argued in front of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) for my client Army Major (MAJ) Thompson recently and the CAAF ruled in our favor in January 2018. The CAAF reversed the ruling made by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) and set aside the findings and sentence related to a major sex offense charge in MAJ Thompson’s case. The CAAF reversed ACCA’s decision based on the CAAF’s ruling in United States v. Hills in 2016. 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.” Ultimately, in Hills, CAAF also held the military judge’s error in giving this instruction was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Since their decision in Hills, the CAAF has reviewed several cases with similar problems. Sometimes appellate courts uphold convictions despite the misuse of propensity evidence like that in Hills. The reasons these cases are sometimes upheld despite the problem is because the facts in some cases can be distinguished from the facts presented in Hills. Also, sometimes the cases are upheld despite a propensity evidence error because the courts find that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In the U.S. v. Thompson case however, the CAAF agreed with my argument and reversed my client’s conviction. I have been following the Hills decision as well as all of the trailer cases in all service courts. I am well apprised of the issues and what to argue in these situations. If you or your loved one was tried for multiple sexual offenses, these decisions affect you. You or your loved one may have a valid appeal. Don’t trust your appeal to just anyone. Look for experience. I have that experience. 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.