The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) has concluded that
United States v. Bowen was decided incorrectly due to the presiding judge’s abuse of discretion
and erroneous judgement. Airman First Class Bowen will be granted a rehearing
after being convicted of assault and aggravated assault, primarily due
to an “excited utterance” given by one of the alleged victims, his wife.
The Details of the Bowen Case
Air Force security personnel entered Bowen’s home after reports of
a disturbance. They noted that Bowen seemed to be in distress and considerably
disoriented. Upon searching the home, the security officers found his
wife – called MB in court documents – unconscious and battered
in the bathtub. To try to assess her health, MB was moved to the bed,
where she appeared to gain partial consciousness. The security officers
then asked her if Bowen was her assaulter, to which she lazily nodded
in response. Another airmen would also comment that he had been assaulted by Bowen.
Later, MB would be hospitalized and treated for her injuries. As part of
her diagnosis, her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level was tested,
giving a staggeringly high result of 0.221%. The extremely high intoxication
level of MB makes any statements – or gestures – she made
at the time of Bowen’s arrest questionable, to say the least. Furthermore,
after she was given some time to recover, investigators turned to her
for a testimony of the events. During this discussion, she stated that
she had “no memory” of talking to investigators and security
personnel that night, and that any statements she made at that time were
“not reliable” due to her intoxicated state of mind.
Bowen’s defense counsel theorized that the other airman who claimed
to have been assaulted as well was the actual perpetrator of the crime.
However, that airman was previously granted immunity in exchange to testify
against Bowen. Despite the questionable circumstances and the “excited
utterance” of MB, Bowen was convicted on both charges.
Excited Utterance Leads to Appeal
The defense counsel worked to file an appeal with the CAAF. It stated the
judge failed to recognize that MB’s head nod was a nonverbal form
of “excited utterance” due to her condition. Excited utterances
by victims are not meant to be taken as hard evidence, as emotions, mental
trauma, intimidation, and so on will likely influence the genuineness
of such statements. Indeed, the prosecution seemed to rely solely on MB’s
nod in its case against Bowen, and it appeared to be the driving force
behind his conviction.
The CAAF agreed that the judge made an error in relying on the excited
utterance to make a ruling. While it is true that a judge has some discretion
over how to conclude a case and why, it was found that this incident was
an abuse of that discretion. Both convictions were overturned and Bowen
is scheduled to get another hearing to defend his name.
Cases similar to Bowen’s that lead to military convictions are not
uncommon. If you have found yourself in such a situation and believe a
courtroom error has caused you to suffer a conviction, Military Criminal
Defense Attorney Joseph L. Jordan can help you utilize the appeal process
and protect your rights. He has defended military service members around
the country and from all branches of the Armed Forces. Call
contact his firm online
to start your defense or appeal case.