The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reverses case due to an appearance of unfairness.

In February, I posted a blog about the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeal’s (NMCCA) decision to affirm the findings and sentence in United States v. Woods.  On June 18, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) reversed the NMCCA decision and overturned the appellant’s conviction.  In Woods, the senior member of the court-martial panel in her written questionnaire essentially stated that the military justice system was different than the civilian justice system because servicemembers are held to a higher standard and therefore “you are guilty until proven innocent.”  Obviously, this court-martial panel member was incorrect. While it is true that when you join the military voluntarily, you may give up certain freedoms, your constitutional rights stay intact.  Just like in the civilian justice system, an accused is always “innocent until proven guilty.”  The defense in U.S. v. Woods, challenged this panel member for cause.  The military judge conducted an individual voir dire (question and answer session) with her and determined that based on her responses, there was no actual or implied bias held by the panel member.  The judge therefore did not grant the challenge for cause.  The NMCCA upheld the military judge’s decision.  However, CAAF reversed this decision and overturned appellant’s conviction.  CAAF determined that while the panel member may not have shown “actual bias” against appellant, “implied basis” was shown.  CAAF reached this decision mostly through a consideration of the “public’s perception of fairness.”  In this case, CAAF concluded that “there is too high a risk that the public would question the fairness of Appellant’s trial.”  Chief Judge Baker further pointed out that “an informed member of the public might well, ask why, absent any operational military necessity, the military judge retained” this member.   So basically because this court-martial may have the appearance of unfairness to the public, the appellant’s conviction was overturned.  This case demonstrates that just because the military judge and the first level of appellate courts rules against an appellant, it may not be over.  CAAF’s decision in U.S. v. Woods shows that the judges on that court are truly looking at the issues and do not shy away from overturning decisions that are not correct in their eyes.  I have a lot of experience with CAAF as well as the lower appellate courts.  I also have a lot of experience representing clients at court-martials and court-martial appeals.  If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial, you need someone with experience.  Don’t put your trial in the hands of just anyone.  Call today.  To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.

William E. Cassara- Military Law Attorney

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