Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces hears two oral arguments involving potentially improper argument by prosecutors.
The courts have determined that prosecutorial misconduct occurs when trial counsel, “oversteps the bounds of that propriety and fairness which should characterize the conduct of such an officer in the prosecution of a criminal offense.” One way in which prosecutors can do this is by expressing their own personal opinions during their closing arguments. Last Wednesday, October 12, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) heard back-to-back oral arguments to consider whether prosecutors in a Navy court-martial and an Army court-martial argued improperly during their closing arguments. The 2014 Navy case, United States v. Pabelona, involved alleged Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) Fraud. The 2013 Army case, United States v. Sewell involved alleged sexual misconduct. In Pabelona, the prosecutor, during his argument, stated that he thought appellant was an “idiot,” called him “ridiculous” and diagnosed him as a “schizophrenic.” The prosecutor also stated that appellant “sleeps in a bed of lies.” Finally, the prosecutor personally vouched for some of the government’s evidence and asked members to disregard defense’s arguments. In Sewell, the prosecutor called the appellant “a dirty old man.” The prosecutor made comments regarding the military stating “we have higher standards” and that “young females in the military are preyed upon.” Finally, the prosecutor opined that “something’s wrong with him” referencing the appellant. In 2005, CAAF ruled that trial counsel may not offer personal opinions because they become a “form of unsworn, unchecked testimony and tend to exploit the influence of [the] office.” Now in reviewing the issues in these two cases, CAAF will have to determine whether what the prosecutors said during the two different court-martials amounts to personal opinions. These cases show that CAAF is interested in appellants receiving a fair trial. If you feel that you or your loved one did not have a fair court-martial, call me. I am extremely experienced with court-martials and court-martial appeals. I will look through your entire record of trial and find appealable issues for you. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.