Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturns conviction despite Appellant’s confession of guilt.
It may surprise some of you to know that one cannot be convicted based on his confession of guilt alone. Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 304(c) states that a confession must have some form of corroboration supporting it to be entered into evidence at a court-martial and used to convict an accused. The corroborating evidence required is only “slight” corroboration. For example, one witness’ testimony, a text message or e-mail could be enough. It does not take a lot. However, if there is not sufficient corroboration, the government simply may not use the confession as evidence in a court-martial. Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) reemphasized this when they overturned the conviction in United States v. Adams. In this case, the appellant had made a sworn statement admitting to stealing cocaine. However, during the court-martial, the government presented no evidence of this theft other than appellant’s confession. In fact, the government presented no evidence of cocaine at all. The defense counsel objected during the court-martial on the basis of lack of corroboration, however, the military judge allowed the confession in anyway. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the military judge did not err in admitting the confession durin g the court-martial. However, CAAF disagreed and set aside the findings and sentence. CAAF noted that even though the evidence need only be “slight,” “the evidence must nevertheless be sufficient in quantity and quality to meet the plain language of the rule.” CAAF further ruled that there must be independent, corroborating facts for the “essential elements” of the confession. In fact, CAAF stated that if only four of the five essential facts in a confession are corroborated, the confession cannot be admitted. In Adams’ case, the Court found that there were three essential facts in the confession, the possession of a handgun, the existence of a named drug dealer and a certain location. CAAF determined that the possession of the handgun was the only essential fact corroborated by the government. This ruling is important and may make it more difficult for prosecutors to get confessions into evidence. If you or your loved one is heading toward a court-martial and he or she has confessed, that may not be enough for a conviction. Additionally, if you or your loved one was already convicted on an uncorroborated confession, there may be a valid appeal. Call today and we can discuss the options. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.