Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals reverses conviction due to an error in the terms of the guilty plea.
Prior to pleading guilty in a court-martial, typically an “offer to plead guilty” or a pretrial agreement (PTA) is constructed by the defense counsel and the terms are agreed to by the government. In the PTA, the accused is offering to plead guilty at a court-martial in exchange for certain things. For instance, an accused might offer to plead guilty in exchange for a cap on the amount of time he can spend in confinement. In a recent Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals case, United States v. Miceli, a conviction was overturned because the terms found in the offer to plead guilty were erred. In Miceli, Lance Corporal Miceli offered to plead guilty to sexual assault by false pretense. In his PTA, Miceli asked that any automatic forfeitures be waived for the benefit of his wife and unborn child. More specifically, he asked that any automatic forfeitures be waived and provided to his wife and unborn child for the rest of his enlistment. The government agreed to these terms. Further, the military judge read the agreement and did not notice any errors. Automatic forfeitures can only be waived for up to six months. The reason for this rule is because the government is sometimes willing to provide the pay an accused would receive if he were not confined to his dependents so that they may slowly transition into not depending on military pay in the future. Waiver of automatic forfeitures is meant to only help with this transition period for the dependents of a convicted servicemember. This money is not intended to carry on indefinitely. Lance Corporal Miceli’s enlistment was to continue for longer than six months after his confinement. Therefore, the contractual agreement to allow his wife and unborn child to receive the waived forfeitures for longer than six months was in error. The N-MCCA determined that this error fell squarely on the shoulders of the government, not just the military judge. Therefore, the N-MCCA reversed the conviction due to this fatal error in the PTA. It will be up to the government whether they will retry this case or not. This case shows that even if you or your loved one pled guilty at a court-martial, there still may be a valid appeal. The appellate courts are sometimes willing to overturn convictions if the government has erred. If you feel you should appeal the result of your court-martial, give me a call. I can read through your trial and give you an honest assessment. 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.