In February of this year, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) issued its opinion in United States v. Briggs. It was the second CAAF decision addressing the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases issued in the last two years. This blog discussed both cases here. Essentially, the Court found that the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases between 1986 and 2006 was only five years, despite provisions in the UCMJ that appeared to make them indefinite.
The first decision in United States v. Mangahas relied on a Supreme Court case from 1986 that found the death penalty unconstitutional for rape cases. The UCMJ at the time listed a five year statute of limitations for most cases, but no limitations on cases with charges, like rape, that could result in the death penalty. The Court reasoned that because the Supreme Court had found that rape charges could not result in the death penalty, then these charges were no longer subject to this exception.
The Briggs case took this conclusion one step further and found that even though Congress changed military law in 2006 to explicitly remove any time limits to prosecution in sexual assault cases, this change was not retroactive even to incidents that occurred less than five years before the change in law.
As a result of these decisions, at least three sexual assault convictions were overturned and sexual assault charges in a high profile case involving a general officer were dismissed.
Now the Government is seeking to have the issue decided by the US Supreme Court. In a petition filed in the Briggs case in July, the Government argued that CAAF should not have applied the Supreme Court decision outlawing the death penalty for rape cases to charges brought under military law. The Government contends that the statute of limitations remained indefinite for military cases because they were still subject to the death penalty even after the Supreme Court decision in 1986. Further, the Government argued that even if Mangahas was rightly decided, cases where the assault was alleged to have occurred within five years of the 2006 UCMJ change should still be viable because the time to prosecute had not run out yet when Congress removed the statute of limitations.
The attorneys for Lt Col Briggs responded in August, arguing that the Government cannot use the Briggs appeal to go back and have the Supreme Court review the issue decided in Mangahas. The Briggs attorneys also argued that under Supreme Court case law both Mangahas and Briggs were correctly decided by CAAF and should not be reversed.
The Supreme Court will review the briefs from the parties and decide whether or not to hear the case. If they decide not to, the CAAF decisions stand and sexual assaults committed between 1986 and 2006 will not be able to be prosecuted. If the Court hears the case, both sides will brief the issue more exhaustively, third parties will likely chime in with “friends of the court” briefs, and the case will be argued before the Supreme Court.
If you or your loved one was convicted of an offense that you think is affected by these new cases, you need someone with experience who knows the law. I have argued this issue, and numerous others in front of appellate courts and CAAF. I have the experience you need. Please contact Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.