Military Judges can ask questions of witnesses too, but if they go too far, there may be a valid appeal.
I have the utmost respect for military judges, however, it is important to remember that they are human and therefore sometimes make mistakes. If one of their mistakes impacts a servicemember who faced trial by court-martial or is facing trial by court-martial, the servicemember may see some relief on appeal. Military judges may ask witness’ questions during a court-martial. The questions do not have to come from only the prosecution and defense attorneys. However, if the military judge asks a faulty question which draws into consideration, evidence that should not be considered according to the Rules for Court-Martial (R.C.M), then there may be a valid appeal. Recently, in United States v. Williams, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) found plain error in a military judge’s questions to a sentencing witness. In this case, the military judge asked some questions in an attempt to see whether there was any aggravation evidence to consider that showed that the appellant’s misconduct negatively impacted the unit in some way. However, the military judge began his question by reciting what the witness had said about members of the unit feeling that due to the “slow pace of justice” they needed to “take matters into their own hands.” According to R.C.M. 1001(b)(4), the administrative burden that a court-martial might put on a unit is evidence that should not be considered when sentencing an accused. When the military judge asked about the witness’ statement that the “slow pace of justice” caused members to want to “take matters in their own hands,” it caused the appearance that the military judge considered such inappropriate evidence when formulating his court-martial sentence. Therefore, ACCA decided that a sentence reassessment was appropriate for the appellant in this case. This is an example of how you may not know that you have a valid court-martial appeal based on something like a military judge’s error. You should contact me if you want me to read your court-martial record of trial and look for such errors. I have the experience it takes to find them and appeal them. Also, if you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or other adverse military action, I am here to help. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.