I pled guilty at my court-martial and waived all motions in my pretrial agreement, does that mean I have no appeal?
Not necessarily. Sometimes when a servicemember pleads guilty to charges at a court-martial, they sign a pretrial agreement (PTA). In the PTA, they might agree to waive any motions that that they are allowed to waive prior to trial. The reason the government will sometimes place this agreement in a PTA is so that the court-martial process will be quick and not be held up by several defense motions. One might assume that if one pleads guilty at their court-martial and waives all motions that they are capable of waiving, that an appeal is impossible. That is not necessarily true. Recently, in United States v. Jeffers, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals made this evident when they accepted the appellant’s appeal despite his waiver of motions in his PTA. In this case, Airman Jeffers pled guilty at his court-martial to both negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter when he drove drunk and killed a fellow Airman in an accident. Prior to his court-martial Airman Jeffers had “waived all waivable motions” in his PTA. One such motion included in the waivable motions was a motion regarding multiplicity or unreasonable multiplication of charges. Despite this waiver, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals decided to review the issue of whether negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter qualified as an unreasonable multiplication of charges in this case. The Court held that they could review this issue despite appellant’s waiver based on plenary powers granted to them in Article 66, UCMJ. The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals stated, “[o]rdinarily, an affirmative waiver of a claim of multiplicity and unreasonable multiplication of charges would end our inquiry. As we held recently, however, Article 66(c), 10 U.S.C. § 866(c) empowers the service court to consider claims of multiplicity or unreasonable multiplication of charges even when those claims have been waived.” The Court cited to its own decision in United States v. Chin in June 2015. The Court found that United States v. Jeffers the two charges based on the Airman’s death were not multiplicious but that they did represent an unreasonable multiplication of charges. The Court noted that “the two charges are not aimed at distinctly separate acts but address a single act of Appellant causing the death of [the other Airman].” The Court further held, “[u]nder the totality of the circumstances, this charging scheme grossly exaggerates Appellant’s criminality.” The Court therefore approved Airman Jeffers’ conviction for involuntary manslaughter, but not the conviction for negligent homicide. Bottom line, you may have a valid appellate issue even if you pled guilty at your court-martial and waived all waivable motions. Call me and we will look at your court-martial together. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.