I pled guilty at my court-martial, but the military judge asked me so many questions at my trial, I am beginning to wonder if I made a mistake…

You are not alone if you feel this way.  Pleading guilty at a court-martial is very different than when a civilian pleads guilty at his civilian criminal trial.  In a court-martial involving a guilty plea, the military judge conducts what is called a “providence inquiry.”  During this inquiry the military judge has a lengthy discussion with the accused servicemember on the record about the crimes he or she is pleading guilty to at the court-martial.  During the inquiry, the military judge must go through the elements of each crime and question the accused servicemember about what specific acts lead the accused servicemember to believe that he is guilty of each crime.  If the military judge fails to elicit all of the facts necessary to establish the elements of each crime during the court-martial, then the conviction may be overturned during an appeal.  Also, sometimes during the questioning by the military judge, the servicemember does not describe facts that amount to the crime he is convicted of and the case can be overturned on appeal because the servicemember is found to be “improvident” during the inquiry.  This happened recently in U.S. v. Murlock at the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA).  In this case, SPC Murlock had pled guilty and had been found guilty of conspiring with other Soldiers to kill a 15 year-old Afghanistan boy.  SPC Murlock had also been found guilty of premeditated murder of the boy after pleading guilty to that offense during his court-martial.  After reviewing the words exchanged between the military judge and SPC Murlock at the court-martial, ACCA determined that during the providence inquiry SPC Murlock did not describe premeditated murder.  ACCA determined that because SPC Murlock could not tell the military judge for sure whether the bullets from his weapon actually caused the boy’s death as opposed to someone else causing the death, SPC Murlock was only provident to attempted premeditated murder not premeditated murder.  If you feel you made a mistake pleading guilty during your court-martial and that the facts you described to the military judge did not amount to the crime you were convicted of, call me.  I have the experience to know whether you may have a valid appeal.  Let’s figure it out together.  The consultation is free.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

William E. Cassara- Military Law Attorney

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