The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces recently decided the case of United States v. Harrington. Airman First Class Harrington was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, communicating a threat, and the unlawful use of cocaine and marijuana. The drug and threat specifications resulted from a separate incident from the involuntary manslaughter offense. The trial was primarily focused on the involuntary manslaughter charge.
When it came time for sentencing, the maximum confinement for all of the offenses for which Harrington had been found guilty was 20 years. The maximum confinement for the involuntary manslaughter offense was 10 years. The conviction for communicating a threat carried a maximum of three years confinement. The wrongful use of cocaine carried a maximum of five years confinement and the wrongful use of marijuana carried a two year maximum.
The military judge instructed the members that 20 years was the maximum confinement that could be awarded. The defense requested that he also instruct them on the maximum punishments for each offense individually. The military judge erroneously believed that the law did not allow him to give the individual maximum punishments and denied the defense request. As a result of this ruling, the Government was able to argue to the members that Harrington should be confined for 15 years for the involuntary manslaughter. The members awarded a sentence that included 14 years of confinement.
On appeal, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the findings and sentence. However, when the case reached the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Court found this view by the military judge to be error, and the error to be prejudicial. The Court found that because the military judge had the wrong view of the law, his denial of the defense request was error. Further, the Court found that had the members known that the maximum confinement for the involuntary manslaughter charge was 10 years, they might have awarded less confinement time. The Court set aside the sentence based upon this error as well as another involving the victim impact statement.
The case will now return to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals to either reassess the sentence on its own or to order a new sentencing hearing. 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.