New Army Court of Criminal Appeals Decision

Welcome to the first installment of my Court-Martial Appeals blog. In this blog, I will attempt to analyze the most interesting and important appellate decisions from the various Courts of Criminal Appeals, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. This blog is mainly intended for non-lawyers, to hopefully give a glimpse of how these courts work. One of the first cases I came upon was U.S. v. Mayo, an Army case decided on 7 April 2017.  This case highlights the need for defense counsel to be specific in making challenges for cause against potential panel members. Remember, it is the General Court-Martial Convening Authority who hand selects the panel for a court-martial. While this system has been under attack for years, it has remained unchanged.

SGT Mayo was charged with the pre-meditated murder of his wife.  During panel selection, it was learned that one of the potential panel members, MAJ MC:

1)  Had deployed with the trial counsel’s father, and was aware that she was preparing for a murder trial.  He would speak to the trial counsel about once a week, albeit in passing.

2)  His wife’s uncle had been murdered “several years ago.”

3)  He had some law enforcement training.

4)  His wife had been abused by her first husband.

When the defense counsel challenged MAJ MC “for cause” they limited their challenge to the last two areas. On paper, at least, it would seem that these are the two “weakest” grounds for challenge, and the first two would have more likely been successful.  The Military Judge denied the challenge for cause.  ACCA affirms.

First, the court notes that the first two areas for challenge were waived, as they were not raised at trial.  The ACCA said it would not second guess the reasons for this.  Second, the court notes that MAJ MC did not have an “actual” or “implied” bias that would preclude him from sitting on the panel.  “Actual” bias means a bias against this particular accused and “Implied” bias means that a member of the general population would have a reasonable belief that the member would be biased.

This cases points out the need for defense counsel to be specific when making challenges so the issues are preserved for appeal. I have taught this subject to defense counsel, and continually remind them that if it didn’t happen at trial, it is hard to raise it on appeal.

In this case, there was no question that the accused had killed his wife. The real issue was whether the murder was pre-meditated. The panel found it was, and the Army Court agreed.