Earlier this year, the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals (CAAF)
made an unexpected decision rejecting the use of Military Evidence Rule
413. That decision, which ruled against the use of "propensity"
evidence in sexual assault cases, has already resulted in multiple remanded
cases that will now receive further review—likely to the benefit
of the accused.
United States v. Arturo A. Tafoya,
United States v. William P. Moynihan, and
United States v. Gene N. Williams have all been handed back down to a lower court for further examination
now that M.R.E. 413 has been struck down. A fourth case,
United States v. Fetrow, is also on the CAAF docket and expected to face a similar fate. In each
of these four cases, the accused was convicted, in part, due to M.R.E. 413.
M.R.E. 413. & "Propensity"
In 1998, the military enacted M.R.E. 413 "Evidence of Similar Crimes
in Sexual Assault Case" in order to give law enforcement and prosecutors
greater leverage in securing sexual assault convictions. This rule mirrored
new federal laws at the time which recognized how difficult convicting
sexual offenders could be when, in many cases, the body of evidence consists
of the defendant's word against the accuser's.
M.R.E. 413 states: "In a court-martial in which the accused is charged
with an offense of sexual assault, evidence of the accused's commission
of one or more offense of sexual assault is admissible, and may be considered
for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant." This means
that prior accusations of sexual assault against the defendant can be
admissible in a court-martial to prove a propensity for sexual violence.
The rule has always been controversial and allowed mere accusations of
sexual misconduct to act as evidence against the accused. So for instance,
prosecutors could present testimony from a second, previous accuser against
the defendant—even when that second accuser's testimony never
resulted in a conviction or a criminal charge. This allowance was in such
direct conflict with Rule 404(a) and (b) (which blocks the use of character
evidence) that M.R.E. 413 had to be specifically worded just to override
it in cases involving alleged sexual assault.
At this blog, we covered the landmark
United States v. Hills decision that struck the evidence rule down, which can be found here.
The Hills decision has already been called "blockbuster" by
some outlets and is likely to not only affect many cases going forward
but shed a new light on more cases currently in the appeals process.
Are you military servicemember that has been accused of a serious criminal
act? If so, you have a choice in your defense counsel.
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is a U.S. Army veteran with more than a decade of experience. He now travels
the globe to advocate for accused U.S. armed forces members and ensure
that they receive every consideration they deserve before the law.
Want to learn more about what our firm can do for you during this uncertain
time? Contact us today to request a
free case evaluation.