Lost Evidence, Lost Case
This past week on February 24, 2014, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) in United States v. Seton upheld a military judge’s decision to dismiss a case with prejudice when the government lost a piece of key evidence. The key evidence in the case was a video surveillance tape that taped events occurring in an Air Force dormitory. Airman First Class (A1C) Seton was accused of sexually assaulting a female A1C. The female stated that she had consensual sexual intercourse with A1C Seton, but that the last 30 to 90 seconds of the five to ten minute long intercourse was non-consensual because she told him that she didn’t want to have intercourse immediately prior to those last seconds. The video surveillance tape contained evidence that may have contradicted her testimony. The government, however, failed to keep the evidence and allowed it to be erased, most likely by accident. The military judge at the court-martial ruled that the government’s failure to maintain the evidence violated Rules for Courts Martial (R.C.M.) 703 (f) because this evidence was essential to a fair trial. Therefore, the military judge dismissed the court-martial case with prejudice. “With prejudice” means that A1C Seton may not be tried for this offense again at a court-martial. The government appealed, but the AFCCA upheld the ruling. The AFCCA held that testimony was just not enough to serve as a substitute for the evidence that was on the video. If you are facing a court-martial, there may be essential evidence in your case as well. You need an advocate by your side who has the experience to know what to ask for, how to address these types of issues at your court-martial, how to preserve issues for appeal and finally how to represent you at an appeal if necessary. I have that experience. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.