You may not plead guilty at your court-martial if you do not believe you are guilty.
In military courts-martial, “Alford pleas” are not permitted. An “Alford plea” is where an accused pleads guilty because it is in his best interest, even though he does not believe he is guilty. To plead guilty at a court-martial, you must believe you are guilty. Pleading guilty at a court-martial is a different than when a civilian pleads guilty at his civilian criminal trial. In a court-martial involving a guilty plea, the military judge conducts what is called a “providence inquiry.” During this inquiry the military judge has a lengthy discussion with the accused servicemember on the record about the crimes he or she is pleading guilty to at the court-martial. During the inquiry, the military judge must go through the elements of the crime and question the accused servicemember about what specific acts lead the accused servicemember to believe that he is guilty of that crime. If an accused servicemember does not believe that he is guilty of a crime, it is likely that this will become clear during either the providence inquiry or during his unsworn statement in the sentencing phase of the court-martial. If that occurs, the military judge may not accept the accused servicemember’s guilty plea. Even if the military judge accepts the guilty plea, it may be later reversed by the appellate courts. In U.S. v. Stout, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA) set aside the findings and sentence that SSG Stout received after pleading guilty, because it was apparent from the court-martial record that he did not believe he was guilty. SSG Stout was accused of touching his stepdaughter sexually, however, when asked about the inappropriate touching, SSG Stout said things to the military judge like “I was trying to help her.” Additionally, later in his unsworn statement, SSG Stout stated that he was just “being a parent.” ACCA set aside the findings and sentence stating that the military judge should not have accepted the plea. A rehearing for SSG Stout may be ordered. It is hard to know whether this will benefit SSG Stout or not. On the one hand, if a rehearing is ordered and SSG Stout pleads not guilty, he may be found guilty again without the benefit of a pretrial agreement. On the other hand, if a rehearing is ordered, SSG Stout may be found not guilty of the offenses or possibly receive a lower sentence than he did before. I have a great deal of experience with courts-martial and court-martial appeals. If you or a loved one is about to face a court-martial, you need an experienced advocate by your side. Give me a call. 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.