Court of Appeals for Armed Forces Finds That Confinement Conditions Did Not Constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Many bases and posts throughout the United States do not have their own confinement facilities. The commanders of these installations often enter into Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) with local civilian jails to hold pretrial detainees, servicemembers serving a short sentence, or servicemembers awaiting transfer to a military confinement facility. The conditions at these local jails can lead to claims of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of a servicemember’s right under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) recently took up just such a case in United States v. Pullings. SSgt Pullings pled guilty to several offenses and was sentenced to thirteen years confinement. Through an MOA between the Air Force and Lowndes County, Georgia, SSgt Pullings was incarcerated in the Lowndes County Jail for eight months until he was transferred to a military facility.

On appeal, SSgt Pullings complained of several issues with his confinement at the county jail. He asserted that: 1) he was provided insufficient food and water, resulting in a 30-pound weight loss; 2) he suffered poor cell conditions and lack of sanitation, including the leakage of sewage water into his cell and the presence of vermin and insects; 3) he lacked proper air and recreation, with his only sunlight exposure coming through a window in a dayroom; and 4) he received insufficient medical care. He asked for

The courts evaluate such claims under the Lovett test. This test requires an inmate to prove three elements: 1) that an objectively, sufficiently serious act or omission resulted in the denial of necessities; 2) that the prison officials were deliberate indifferent to the inmate’s health or safety; and 3) that the inmate exhausted the prisoner grievance system and petitioned his commander under Article 138, UCMJ.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) was the first to review the case. The AFCCA found that SSgt Pullings had not proven that the prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his first three complaints. The court analyzed the claim regarding medical care differently. The Supreme Court had previously held that in terms of medical needs, an inmate must show that the officials were deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs. Based upon this standard, the AFCCA determined that even if the prison officials had been deliberately indifferent to SSgt Pullings complaint regarding his medical care, that he had not proven that his medical needs were “serious.” The Air Force court affirmed his sentence.

SSgt Pullings appealed this decision to the CAAF. The court agreed with the AFCCA and found that SSgt Pullings had not met the requirements of the Lovett test. CAAF affirmed the findings and sentence in his case.

If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or wants to appeal a court-martial conviction, you need someone with experience who knows the law. I have the experience you need. Please call Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.

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