In United States v. Covitz, the Appellant gets a new trial because the military judge abused his discretion in "by denying challenges for cause against multiple panel members."
"Appellant’s convictions arose from allegations he assaulted his former girlfriend."
Beginning with 14 prospective members, agreement and challenges whittled that down to ten. But the defense had four more challenges (one of which was later resolved with a peremptory challenge)--all initially denied. AFCCA agrees that one denial was proper, so we are down to three.
1. Implied bias challenge based on "based on his knowledge of both Appellant and Maj RW, whom trial defense characterized as “a central witness[.]”
” Trial defense counsel pointed to Maj MP’s “very high opinion” of Maj RW and told the military judge that Maj RW was “very financially well off” based upon some profitable investments he had made. The relevance of Maj RW’s financial status, according to trial defense counsel, was that Maj MP essentially said he “goes to [Maj RW] for financial advice. . . . It’s where [Maj MP] is literally going to somebody who has had a significant amount of success financially and both [sic] in his career and asked him for advice.” Trial defense counsel argued that Maj MP was relying on Maj RW’s advice on “potentially major life and financial decisions.” Trial defense counsel pointed to the length of the conversations and the fact that Maj MP and Maj RW had a long conversation just days before the court-martial, as well as the fact that Maj RW was an adverse witness to Appellant—in no small part because Maj RW was in a relationship with Ms. CC, Appellant’s former girlfriend and victim in the case. The Defense also noted Maj RW’s affiliation with the potential defense witness, Capt SS.
The Government opposed because "that because Maj MP knows Appellant, a Government witness (Maj RW), and a Defense witness (Capt SS), that outside observers “would see that as potentially balancing out in a way.” When denying the challenge the MJ said
he had considered the liberal grant mandate and that he did “not find it to be a particularly close call based upon [witness/member] limited interaction.
2. The member had apparently rented a home from the Appellant (where the alleged offenses happened) and he had a sister-victim. A question came up about the members knowledge of the house layout and some "sound barrier" problems which migh tbe relevant in testimony. The MJ responded similarly to #1.
3. Same result as #1, 2, based on
[A]pproximately eight months before Appellant’s court-martial, she started volunteering at a local shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence. Maj JR’s role was to lead hour-long yoga classes once or twice a month. The shelter prohibited volunteers from talking to the shelter residents about the abuse they suffered and from interacting with the women at all outside the shelter. [S]he went through a four-hour volunteer orientation at the shelter before she started leading the yoga classes, but there was no discussion of domestic violence itself during the orientation. The Defense challenged Maj JR under an implied bias theory based upon her volunteering at the shelter. Trial defense counsel said the Defense might call an expert witness to testify about “biases within the system when they know the victim of domestic violence,” which might conflict with Maj JR’s experience at the shelter.
The Government perempted a different member and the defense perempted #3 above.
Thus, there were eight members and quorum. The AFCCA concludes that the MJ erred as to #1 and #2 above. There is a good analysis of the implied bias and liberal grant mandate. It seems the AFCCA takes the position that the decision was a close call on the facts and the liberal grant mandate should have resulted in a granted challenge.
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