Friday, June 19, 2015

Guilty until proven innocent?

"What we got here . . ."
The following is from the opinion of the court in United States v. Woods, decided yersterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces:
In this case, the convening authority selected Captain (CAPT) Martha Villalobos as the senior member of the panel that would try Appellant for sexual assault, despite having access to her preliminary member’s questionnaire, in which CAPT Villalobos stated her belief that “enforcement of ‘you are guilty until proven innocent’ (just the opposite as in the civilian sector) is essential because the military needs to be held to a higher standard just for reasons of our mission.”
Say what?

Following rehabilitative voir dire, the military judge permitted the captain (a dentist) to sit on the panel (as senior member), and the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, not surprisingly. (The judges were divided over whether it was a case of actual [1 vote] or implied [4 votes] bias.) What is surprising -- no, shocking -- is that a senior naval officer could actually have entertained the view this officer expressed. One wonders what steps the Navy is taking to ensure that those who rise high, some number of whom will exercise the broad powers that Congress unwisely continues to confer on convening authorities, understand the basic rules of the military justice road.

To borrow a phrase from Cool Hand Luke, "what we got here is a failure to communicate."

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