NMCCA reverses findings due to conflicts of interest between military prosecutor and military defense counsel.
On 31 May 2017, in United States v. Hale, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) reversed the findings and sentence in a marine court-martial based on severe conflicts of interest found between the lead defense counsel and the lead prosecutor. A rehearing was authorized. In this case, appellant was convicted of serious offenses and was sentenced to confinement for 26 years. The lead defense counsel in appellant’s case was a marine captain and she was opposed by a prosecution team led by a marine lieutenant colonel (LtCol) who was a former military judge. The LtCol served as the reviewing officer of the defense counsel’s husband. Additionally, it was known that the lead defense counsel’s next job in the marines was going to be as a trial counsel working under the very same lead prosecutor in appellant’s court-martial. Throughout the court-martial process, the LtCol prosecutor took things very personally and lashed out at the defense team. Additionally, the LtCol told the defense counsel’s husband that he might hold her conduct in the trial against him. Further, when the defense counsel was considering raising a motion against the government regarding the LtCol’s removal from the case, the defense counsel’s husband told her that he was worried about the effect that might have on his rating and his career. Finally, at one point during the court-martial, the LtCol reminded the defense counsel that she would be “coming back to the government” side soon. The defense counsel did not reveal any of these clear conflicts of interest to her client or to the military judge. At one point, the LtCol accused the defense counsel of unethical conduct and she sobbed at the defense counsel table struggling to stand back up and represent her client. The NMCCA dismissed the findings and sentence in this case based on all of these actual conflicts of interest and because appellant’s defense counsel was inadequate at defending him due to the conflicts. As concluded by the NMCCA, the “record presents a disturbing picture.” This case illustrates that the defense counsel of an accused must be completely dedicated to defending his or her client. There can be no conflicts which cause distraction. If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial, you need an advocate who is focused on only your case and your best interests. You also need someone with experience. I can assure you that in every case, my whole focus has been on my client’s best interests. If I represent you, you can rest assured that I will not have any conflicts of interest or distractions. You will be my focus. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.