The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) has dismissed two charges in United States v. Reese, a military law case originating from the Coast Guard. The first charge was dismissed on the grounds that it was caused by “an improper major change” during trial proceedings. The second charge was dismissed after the CAAF determined that it never actually stated a chargeable offense. The Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision has been reversed by the CAAF, and U.S. v. Reese will require a sentence reassessment.
DETAILS OF U.S. V. REESE
The charges brought against Aviation Maintenance Technician First Class Reese were varied and many, yet he opted to just be trial by a military judge, rather than a panel or full court martial procedure. He actually pleaded guilty so several of the charges but pleaded not guilty to alleged sex crimes involving a small child. In addition to convicted him for his guilty pleas, the military judge also convicted Reese for the charges to which he had said he was not guilty.
U.S. v. Reese stands out in the way that the allegations were handled, and actually permitted to change, during the trial. Reese was actually charged for mouth-to-genital touching between himself and a young boy. Reese only admitted to hand-to-genital touching, and the small boy also never said that there was mouth-to-genital contact. Upon this revelation, the prosecution altered the charge to match what apparently had happened, and the military judge allowed it despite the defense counsel’s objections. The judge held that it was only a “minor change” to swap the charge from mouth-to-genital contact to hand-to-genital contact. Minor changes are typically permitted in spite of opposing counsel objections.
DIFFERENTIATING THE MAJOR FROM THE MINOR
A “major change” in a criminal case cannot be approved by the court over the objection of opposing counsel without first specifying that the altered information or charge is “preferred anew.” Within U.S. v. Reese, the defense objected that the alteration of the charges might have only been based upon the differences between one body part and another, but the ramifications to the case and indeed to Reese’s defense were significant, so much so that the change could not be seen as minor.
The CAAF maintained the defense’s position and found that the change was major and not minor. Since the defense had posed an objection to the change in charge definitions, its allowance by the military judge was therefore an error. For a major change to the charge sheet to be permitted, the accused must consent or it must be considered as a new preferral and referral. Neither of these prerequisites were accomplished. The CAAF continued to explain that the error was critical enough to damage the entire integrity or structure of the trial procedures (Neder v. United States), rendering any conclusion, or at least any sentencing, questionable at best.
OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE DOES NOT DEFAME THE ARMED FORCES
The second charge in question was brought up upon accusations that Reese had told the small boy to not tell anyone about the sexual contact, or else both Reese and Reese’s wife could be jailed. The charges argued that the statement was powerful enough to discredit or defame the United States Armed Forces. The CAAF found that the statement did not amount to discretization of a punishable offense, but instead could be considered an obstruction of justice. However, it went on to say that the prosecution’s novel article 134 specification of obstructing justice proved to be insufficient. Obstructing justice has four elements under the MCM definitions, and the prosecution did not provide enough information or allegations to uphold the charge.
Joseph Jordan is a civilian military criminal defense attorney with years of experience protecting the rights and good names of Armed Forces service members across the country, and indeed the world. Backed with a history of successful case results, you can confidently turn to Attorney Jordan when you are facing serious charges or accusations. Call (866) 361-4723 or contact his office today to learn more about his services and your defense options.