Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Court Upholds Sexual Assault Conviction

The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals recently released its opinion in the case of United States v. Jones. MMFN Jones was with a group of Sailors that rented several rooms at a hotel in Seattle. One of the sailors became very intoxicated and went to sleep in one of the rooms rented by the group. She awoke to MMFN Jones having sex with her. As soon as he left, she alerted one of the other Sailors and eventually had a forensic examination. The examination produced DNA evidence matching MMFN Jones.

At trial, the Government introduced a statement MMFN Jones had made to a fellow Sailor that he was going to “get some” that night. They also introduced two statements Jones had made to the victim stating that he was going to “hit that” and “tap that” tonight, in reference to her body. On appeal, the defense argued that these statements were improperly introduced in violation of Military Rule of Evidence (MRE) 404(b).

MRE 404 is a rule concerning the introduction of character evidence. The general rule is that the Government may not introduce character evidence of an accused unless it is for a specific, allowable reason. The purpose of the rule is so that the Government may not introduce evidence that an accused is a “bad person” or a criminal and argue that he must therefore have also committed the charged offense. MRE 404(b) allows certain evidence of prior bad acts if it is tied to proving the charged offense only. For example, if a burglar always uses a certain method of entering a home and is then charged with a new burglary, evidence of prior burglaries he committed using that same specific method of entry could be admitted to prove that this crime was likely committed by the same person. The point is not that he is a burglar, and must therefore have committed the charged burglary, but that he uses the same methods and that it can be used to identify him as the burglar in this instance.

The defense’s argument on appeal was that the statements introduced made it seem like Jones had a “propensity” or inclination to commit sexual assaults and that, therefore, introducing these statements would allow the members to convict him for being a bad person, instead of for being the person who sexually assaulted the victim in this case. The Navy-Marine Corps Court disagreed. First, they did not find that the statements implicated any prior bad act or crime. Second, they found that even if these statements did bring MRE 404(b) into play, they were admissible to show Jones’ intent to have sex that night, not to establish any negative propensity. The Court affirmed the conviction and sentence.

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