MILITARY JUSTICE PERSONNEL: Court Members: Eligibility/Selection


2010 (September Term)


United States v. Gooch, 69 M.J. 353 (voir dire is the principal legal instrument used to ensure that those members who qualify for service as panel members can do so free from conflict and bias). 


(Article 25(a), UCMJ, generally provides that any commissioned officer on active duty is eligible to serve on all courts-martial; section 25(d), however, delimits this eligibility; subsection (d)(1) provides that members junior in rank or grade to the accused are ineligible to serve when it can be avoided, and subsection (d)(2) further provides that a member is per se ineligible when he is the accuser or a witness for the prosecution or has acted as investigating officer or as counsel in the same case; other relationships might similarly disqualify an otherwise eligible officer during the screening process, such as the parent of a victim).    

 

(from among officers eligible to serve on a court-martial panel, the convening authority shall detail as members thereof such members as, in his opinion, are best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament). 

 

(although the convening authority must personally select the court-martial members, he or she may rely on staff and subordinate commanders to compile a list of eligible members). 

 

(three principles inform the screening of servicemembers for court-martial service: (1) an improper motive to pack the member pool will not be tolerated; (2) systemic exclusion of otherwise qualified potential members based on an impermissible variable such as rank, race, or gender is improper; and (3) an appellate court will be deferential to good faith attempts to be inclusive and to require representativeness so that court-martial service is open to all segments of the military community). 

 

(screening potential members of junior rank or grade is not only proper; it is required by Article 25(d)(1), UCMJ).

 

(although not enumerated as an express criterion in Article 25, UCMJ, availability in the military context is an appropriate screening factor; this is implicit in the overall structure of the UCMJ, which is intended to promote justice as well as to assist in maintaining good order and discipline; it is also reflected in the language of Article 25(d)(1), UCMJ, contemplating that there may be circumstances, not at issue here, where service by officers junior to an accused cannot be avoided; for these reasons, availability is recognized as a valid consideration in member selection).

 

(availability cannot be used to mask exclusion or evade Article 25, UCMJ, criteria; and, where necessary or appropriate, it is also subject to judicial review at the trial level). 

 

(the screening methodology used to select members of an African American accused’s court-martial panel, under which potential members were screened out based on possible personal knowledge of the case as well as a possible a personal relationship with the accused, was not impermissibly designed to exclude members of the accused’s race; although the screening methodology used had the effect of excluding three of the four eligible African American members from consideration by the convening authority, there was no evidence in the record of an improper motive to pack the member pool or to exclude members based on race). 

 

(possible personal knowledge of the case and possible personal knowledge of the accused were not appropriate selection criteria with which to categorically exclude service as a panel member where (1) these categories are not express categories provided for by the Congress in Article 25, UCMJ; (2) the text of RCM 912 reflects the President’s intent that the appropriate mechanism for addressing potential bias or knowledge of the case and of the accused is through voir dire; (3) this point is particularly apt where the category of exclusion is conditional involving only the possibility of knowledge, let alone, knowledge that would preclude panel service - such selection criteria would act to exclude not only members with negative or positive biases toward an accused but also members with no view one way or the other who could potentially make it through the voir dire process; (4) the methodology used had the effect of significantly limiting the potential pool of officers from which the CA might apply the Article 25, UCMJ, criteria; and (5) by delimiting the pool of potential members in this way, the government arguably, although not purposefully, afforded itself the opportunity in effect to peremptorily challenge any officer at the command who might know appellant and have a favorable view of appellant’s professional service). 

 

(however well-intentioned, the convening authority’s staff cannot exclude an entire class of eligible members based on mere possibilities; however, the staff need not include all eligible members or those with obvious conflicts). 

 

(voir dire as provided for in Article 41, UCMJ, and regulated by the President under RCM 912, is the codal method for identifying and screening members based on potential bias, not categorical exclusion; voir dire provides an accused (and the government) with the necessary safeguards in the form of unlimited challenges for cause based on actual or implied bias and the liberal grant mandate on the record and supervised by the military judge). 

 

(possible personal knowledge of the case or the accused, based on contemporaneous service alone, is not a proper basis for screening potential members under Article 25, UCMJ; the government is not entitled to exclude all potential members who might have a favorable (or unfavorable) view of an accused based on prior professional contact; possible personal knowledge of the accused or the case are not Article 25, UCMJ, criteria). 

 

(the mechanism for addressing bias, the potential for bias, or the appearance of bias among panel members, is through voir dire and the use of causal and peremptory challenges). 

 

(a nonconstitutional error in excluding a class of potential members from appellant’s court-martial based on dates of service at his base because such persons might have knowledge of the case or knowledge of appellant did not materially prejudice appellant’s right to a fair and impartial panel for two reasons; first, the Article 25, UCMJ, criteria were applied to the potential pool of members forwarded to the CA, who could select from the list or from others as he deemed appropriate and who personally selected the members; and second, the panel by which appellant was tried was fair and impartial, where the military judge conducted a rigorous and diligent voir dire process, in which he properly applied the law, including consideration of actual and implied bias).

2008 (Transition)


United States v. Bartlett, 66 M.J. 426 (the Secretary of the Army impermissibly contravened the provisions of Article 25(d)(2), UCMJ, 10 USC § 825(d)(2), which requires a convening authority to select court-martial members best qualified for duty based upon age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament, by issuing a regulation that exempted from court-martial service officers of the Medical Corps, Medical Specialist Corps, Army Nurse Corps, Dental Corps, Chaplain Corps, Veterinary Corps, and those detailed to Inspector General duties). 


United States v. Townsend, 65 M.J. 460 (law enforcement personnel are not per se disqualified from service as court members; if status as a law enforcement officer is not a disqualification, it follows that a mere familial relationship with a member of the law enforcement community creates no greater basis upon which to disqualify a member than law enforcement status itself). 

 
(lawyers are not per se disqualified as court-martial members unless they have served in one of the capacities explicitly set forth as a disqualification in the UCMJ; it follows that one who only aspires to become a lawyer is not disqualified and presents no greater threat to the fairness of a proceeding than does a court member who is a fully trained and licensed attorney). 

 

2005


United States v. Sonego, 61 M.J. 1 (voir dire is critical to the fairness of a court-martial; a defendant’s right to a fair trial is undermined if panel members fail to answer material questions honestly during voir dire). 

 

2004

 

United States v. Dowty, 60 MJ 163 (Article 25(d)(2), UCMJ, provides that when convening a court-martial, the convening authority shall detail as members thereof such members of the armed forces as, in his opinion, are best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament; no member of an armed force is eligible to serve as a member of a general or special court-martial when he is the accuser or a witness for the prosecution or has acted as investigating officer or as counsel in the same case; simply stated, this statute mandates the selection of members who are best qualified). 

 

(three factors are most helpful in evaluating the propriety of any screening of servicemembers for eventual consideration by the convening authority for court-martial service; first, an improper motive to pack the member pool will not be tolerated; second, systemic exclusion of otherwise qualified potential members based on an impermissible variable such as rank is improper; and third, this Court will be deferential to good faith attempts to be inclusive and to require representativeness so that court-martial service is open to all segments of the military community). 

 

(even though the record showed that the assistant staff judge advocate solicited volunteers to serve as court members, appellant failed to meet his burden of establishing the improper exclusion, with an improper motive, of qualified personnel from the selection process; the transparency of the assistant staff judge advocate in seeking volunteer members suggests that he had no improper motive in his attempt to develop a pool of potential members). 

 

(it was error to inject into the panel selection process the irrelevant variable of a servicemember volunteering to be a member, and the novel method of soliciting for members in the Plan of the Week to identify volunteer members for the panel pool is rejected; this conclusion is consistent with the current federal rule that the use of volunteers violates both the letter and spirit of the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1861-1869 and its requirement of random selection).

 

(the practice of soliciting only volunteers for the panel pool is simply condemned).

 

(in this case, there was no showing of an improper motive by anyone involved in the nomination or selection of the members; the preliminary screening variable of volunteerism was irrelevant because there was no showing that this variable operated to exclude a discernable group or to diminish the representative nature of the pool, and the use of volunteers did not thwart the congressional procedure in Article 25(b)(2) for the selection of best qualified members because the convening authority personally selected the panel and applied the criteria of Article 25(d)).

 

(the failure of the assistant staff judge advocate to include the Article 25(d)(2) member selection factors of experience and education in his advice to the convening authority did not taint the convening authority’s personal selection of the members where the convening authority expressly stated that he reviewed the court-martial member questionnaires in making his selection and these questionnaires addressed both the factors of each member’s experience and education).

 

(the convening authority cured any error arising from the preliminary screening of the court-martial member panel pool using the impermissible variable of volunteerism by personally selecting the panel and applying the criteria of Article 25(d)).

 

2003

United States v. Mack, 58 MJ 413 (only those service members who are detailed to a specific court-martial can serve on that court-martial panel; when the convening orders and the record make it clear that an individual who served on a court-martial panel was never detailed to do so, we have held that the court-martial was improperly constituted and the findings must be set aside).

(when the record reflects an ambiguity as to whether an individual was detailed to serve at a particular court-martial, we look to the intent of the convening authority with respect to service of that member on that court-martial panel; when there is an ambiguity but no evidence that the convening authority’s intent was to the contrary, the construction of the convening orders by the participants of the trial is controlling).

(no prejudicial plain error occurred in the process of excusing members and adding two members, each of whom had been specifically identified by the convening authority to be added in the occurrence of a triggering event, notwithstanding that the trial counsel did not address the circumstances of the triggering event on the record; on the contrary, the record is consistent with the occurrence of a triggering event, and the government was not obligated to produce evidence of the actual operation of the triggering mechanism absent evidence in the trial record or adduced after trial raising reasonable questions regarding the triggering mechanism).

2002

United States v. Wiesen, 57 MJ 48(Recon.)(Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury does not apply to courts-martial; who may serve on a court-martial is governed instead by Article 25, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 USC § 825, which permits the convening authority – the official who has exercised prosecutorial discretion in the case – personally to select the members of the court-martial panel).

2001

United States v. Benedict, 55 MJ 451 (reliance upon staff work does not undermine a military judge’s finding of fact that the convening authority personally selected the members of the court-martial).

(the convening authority may rely on his or her staff to nominate court members, and findings that the convening authority personally selected members are not undermined by the fact that the convening authority selected nine perspective members put forth in an order prepared by the Chief of Staff).

(a military judge’s finding of fact that the convening authority personally selected the members of the court-martial was supported by: (1) testimony from all the witnesses in the case indicating that it was the convening authority’s decision that resulted in the selection of the members; (2) testimony indicating that the convening authority personally affirmed that he selected the members; and (3) the convening authority’s personal signature on the convening order).

2000

United States v. Kirkland, 53 MJ 22 (where chart used in seeking court member nominees did not provide any place to nominate court members below the grade of E-7, where no enlisted members were nominated below the grade of E-7, where no nominees below the grade of E-7 were presented to the convening authority, and where no individuals below the grade of E-7 were selected to serve as members, the exclusion of potentially qualified members was improper and the military judge erred in denying the defense request for a new court-martial panel).

(even where a convening authority does not use rank as a criterion in the selection process, an unresolved appearance that potentially qualified court members below the grade of E-7 were excluded made reversal of the sentence appropriate to uphold the essential fairness and integrity of the military justice process).

1999

United States v. Roland, 50 MJ 66 (members may not be selected or systematically excluded solely on the basis of rank).

(nomination process which does not systematically include or exclude certain members is a reasonable means of assisting the convening authority).

(nomination process which improperly includes or excludes certain members will be reviewed to ensure that actual selection of members is not tainted).

(no indication of improper selection where record established E-4’s and below were not categorically excluded although not identified as potential members during the nomination process, and convening authority knew he was not limited to selection of those grades reflected among the nominations).

United States v. Bertie, 50 MJ 489 (the intent and purpose of the convening authority in selecting individuals to serve as court-martial members is an essential factor in determining compliance with Article 25(d)(2), UCMJ).

(although not entitled to a panel that represents a cross-section of the eligible military population, an accused is entitled to a panel selected without deliberate exclusion of lower grades and ranks (other than those junior to the accused), and one which is not purposefully stacked in that case with members of senior grades or ranks to achieve a desired result).

(make up of particular court-martial panel or of several panels over time might circumstantially suggest impermissible intent on the part of the convening authority, but other evidence in the record must be considered to determine whether an intent to stack the court actually existed).

(although make up of particular court-martial panel or of several panels over time might circumstantially suggest impermissible intent on the part of the convening authority, other evidence showed that convening authority intended to comply with Article 25 criteria where:  (1) the SJA specifically advised the convening authority of proper selection criteria; (2) the convening authority acknowledged in a written memorandum that he used Article 25 in selecting members; and (3)  appellant proffered no evidence to rebut government’s showing of proper selection).

(reasonable doubt concerning the use of improper court member selection criteria will not be tolerated; but no such doubt exists on this record where there was an extensive hearing and ample evidence of lawful conduct on the part of appellant’s convening authority).

United States v. Gray, 51 MJ 1 (fact that no women were selected to sit on court-martial panel was inadequate by itself to establish that appellant was denied his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments or to show plain error; see United States v. Loving, 41 MJ 213, 283-287 (1994), aff’d on other grounds, 517 U.S. 748 (1996)).

(limiting eligible enlisted members of a court-martial to other than those who are in the same unit as the accused is not arbitrary or capricious).

(convening authority is not prohibited from selecting court-members pursuant to Article 25(d), UCMJ, for capital trial for offenses that occur on a military reservation but where there is concurrent jurisdiction with a state authority; see United States v. Loving, 41 MJ 213, 297 (1994), aff’d on other grounds, 517 U.S. 748 (1996)).

 


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