Senate lowers the corroboration necessary for a confession to be submitted as evidence.
In April, I blogged about the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces’ decision in United States v. Adams and the Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 304(c). At that time, M.R.E. 304(c) stated that a confession must have some form of corroboration supporting it to be entered into evidence at a court-martial and used to convict an accused. CAAF in United States v. Adams reemphasized the former M.R.E. 304(c) when they overturned appellant’s conviction based on this rule. In this case, the appellant had made a sworn statement admitting to stealing cocaine. However, during the court-martial, the government presented no evidence of this theft other than appellant’s confession. In fact, the government presented no evidence of cocaine at all. The defense counsel objected during the court-martial on the basis of lack of corroboration, however, the military judge allowed the confession in anyway. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the military judge did not err in admitting the confession during the court-martial. However, CAAF disagreed and set aside the findings and sentence. CAAF noted that even though the evidence need only be “slight,” “the evidence must nevertheless be sufficient in quantity and quality to meet the plain language of the rule.” CAAF further ruled that there must be independent, corroborating facts for the “essential elements” of the confession. In fact, CAAF stated that if only four of the five essential facts in a confession are corroborated, the confession cannot be admitted. In Adams’ case, the Court found that there were three essential facts in the confession, the possession of a handgun, the existence of a named drug dealer and a certain location. CAAF determined that the possession of the handgun was the only essential fact corroborated by the government.
CAAF’s ruling in U.S. v. Adams has been made a little less significant by the Senate’s recent passing of the National Defense Authorization Act FY 2016 this past June. The Senate changed M.R.E. 304(c) drastically. Now, in order for a confession to be admitted slight evidence corroborating the “truthfulness” of the statement is required. The government is no longer required to corroborate the facts or “essential elements” of the confession. Also, not every essential fact needs to be independently proven for the whole statement to be admitted. This change to M.R.E. 304(c) is significant and it is quite possible that CAAF would have ruled differently in U.S. v. Adams if this change had been effective. This change to military justice as well as all the other recent significant changes made by Congress means that now more than ever, a servicemember facing a court-martial or a court-martial appeal needs experienced representation. If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or court-martial appeal, call now. 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.