Sunday, April 15, 2018

Unlawful command influence, other concerns, at issue in San Diego case

A battle royal is unfolding in San Diego over allegations of unlawful command influence in a case involving U.S. Navy SEALs. Here's the latest, from Carl Prine of the Union-Tribune. The lede:
Three SEALs accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan hope to escape court-martial by expanding an evolving legal concept unique to the military — the appearance of unlawful influence by commanders that’s so odious it ruins the public’s faith in the criminal justice system. 
“I don’t know how anyone in the general public could look at this without holding their nose,” said Colby Vokey, part of the defense team for the SEAL defendants.
An interesting subplot concerns two lawyers from the local United States Attorney's Office who were also naval reservists. Did their dual roles create a problem? Excerpt:
Playing out behind the scenes was a secret probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, which defense attorneys also say was prodding the Navy to do something.

On Tuesday, the criminal defense attorneys revealed that federal prosecutor Michelle Pettit quietly led a grand jury probe in San Diego that put two of those new witnesses against the SEALs on the stand but triggered no indictments.

Pettit has been linked to another controversial case involving [Vice Admiral JamesCrawford — the investigation of several SEAL trainers following the May 6, 2016, drowning of Seaman James Derek Lovelace in a Navy pool.

In July, whistleblowers submitted a slew of internal Navy records to The San Diego Union-Tribune. They included an email sent by Navy Capt. Donald King — the staff judge advocate for San Diego’s Navy Region Southwest — to Pettit and Blair Perez, the executive assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California.

King wrote that Crawford had “ordered a second look” at his team’s recommendation to forgo charges against SEAL trainers who were present when Lovelace died, a decision reaffirmed at every other layer of the Navy.

Both Perez and Pettit are military attorneys in the Navy reserves, with Pettit also serving as an appellate judge on the Navy Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which raised concerns from the criminal defense attorneys in the Lovelace case, too.
As well it might. How can the same individual serve as a part-time criminal court appellate judge and full-time prosecutor?

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