The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces upheld the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals decision to reverse rape conviction due to insufficiency of evidence.
In July 2015, in United States v. Clark, the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals (N-MCCA) reversed an appellant’s conviction for rape and forcible sodomy based on factual insufficiency. In this case, a female accused Airman (AN) Clark of having vaginal and oral sexual intercourse with her, while she was unable to consent due to intoxication. The government’s case relied heavily on the alleged victim’s testimony. However, her memory was very fragmented from the night in question. Therefore, from her testimony it was difficult to discern whether or not the element of force was met. At the court-martial, the military judge made special findings stating that he found the alleged victim to be credible and that statements AN Clark had made to investigators prior to the court-martial demonstrated consciousness of guilt. Airman Clark was sentenced to seven years confinement, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. On appeal to the N-MCCA, the court reversed the findings and sentence. The N-MCCA found that “while SW’s description of appellant holding her by her arms provided some evidence of force, she could not link this action by the appellant to any further act, sexual or otherwise, and the disorganized, potentially non-sequential order of her memories prevents us from concluding that the charged forcible sexual acts necessarily followed.” In other words, the court found that the government had not met their burden through her testimony. The Judge Advocate General of the Navy then certified issues involving this decision to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). CAAF upheld the N-MCCA’s decision. CAAF specifically held that the Courts of Criminal Appeals have “prerogative to weigh the evidence and judge the credibility of witnesses” and also found that this factual issue is “beyond [CAAF’s] statutory jurisdiction.” In other words, CAAF held that the Courts of Criminal Appeals have discretionary powers and that CAAF is not going to intervene when they have ruled using these powers. Therefore, the reversal of AN Clark’s conviction and sentence was upheld. This case demonstrates that being found guilty at a court-martial does not mean your defense is over, even when you are convicted of rape. Military appellate courts are there to review legal issues and are willing to reverse convictions when the government fails to meet their burden. It also shows that in a “he said, she said” case, sometimes the accusation alone is simply not enough for a conviction. If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or would like to appeal your court-martial, you need experience by your side. I have the experience you need and I will know what the best arguments are in your specific court-martial and/or appeal. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.