Commentary on United States v. Tate.
As his sentence did not include death, a punitive discharge, or confinement for two or more years, the accused was not entitled to automatic review of his convictions by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA). See Article 66(b)(3), UCMJ.
A reserve attorney assigned to the Army Trial Judiciary completed the Article 65 review, “found no irregularities with appellant’s court-martial and provided appellant with no relief.” United States v. Tate, ARMY 20200590 at 3 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 9, 2022). Thereafter, Appellant timely applied for relief under Article 69(a), UCMJ, which provides: “Upon application by the accused and subject to subsections (b), (c), and (d), the Judge Advocate General may modify or set aside, in whole or in part, the findings and sentence in a court-martial that is not reviewed under section 866 of this title (article 66).” (Emphasis added) The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) delegated his Article 69 authority to deny relief “to attorneys assigned to OTJAG-CLD but withheld authority to grant relief to his personal level.” Tate, at 4. An attorney in OTJAG-CLD reviewed Appellant’s case and denied relief.
Appellant sought relief at ACCA, alleging multiple errors, including that the evidence was legally insufficient to support convictions as to two charges. ACCA granted that issue and specified an additional issue: whether it had jurisdiction to review the case when the Judge Advocate General of the Army had “not taken an action outlined in Article 69(c).” Tate, Order (Feb. 10, 2022).
Although Appellant’s brief will not download from ACCA’s website, it is clear from the Government’s brief of March 15, 2022, the parties misunderstood the concern that resulted in ACCA specifying the issue. The Government argued that, regardless of the denial of Article 69(a) relief, as ACCA’s jurisdiction was not dependent on the outcome of the Article 69 review, the court had jurisdiction to consider Appellant’s appeal. It cited and appended two opinions—one Navy, one Air Force—in which the relevant CCA had considered an appellant’s case, although the relevant TJAG had personally denied relief under Article 69(c), UCMJ.
ACCA issued a notice of a hearing in the case to be held on July 26, 2022. Tate, Notice of Hearing (June 6, 2022). Apparently recognizing that the parties misunderstood the specified issue, ACCA issued an amended notice of hearing in which it ordered the parties to “be prepared to address the following question:
The 18 November 2021 ‘Action’ is signed by Lieutenant Colonel JR for The Judge Advocate General (TJAG). What is the legal authority for TJAG to delegate the authority to take action as outlined in Article 69(c), UCMJ, to another judge advocate?” Tate, Amended Notice of
Hearing (July 21, 2022).
After the hearing, ACCA determined that, unlike Article 65, Article 69(c) did not allow TJAGs to delegate the authority to grant or deny relief. As the Army TJAG had not personally acted in Appellant’s case, as required by Article 69(c), ACCA held it was without jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
We expect that ACCA’s decision in this case will be sufficient to induce the Army TJAG to change policy and personally decide whether relief is appropriate in applications for relief under Article 69, UCMJ. If not, an applicant could apply to the CCA for a writ of mandamus, asking it to order the JAG to take action on the case as required by Article 69(c), UCMJ.
Although writs have had a troubled history in the military, recently military appellate courts have looked upon them more favorably. The All Writs Act grants the power to “all courts established by Act of Congress [to] issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdiction and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.’’ 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a). The CCAs are such courts. Clinton v. Goldsmith, 526 U.S. 529, 534–35 (1999).
The “All Writs Act requires two determinations: (1) whether the requested writ is ‘‘in aid of’’ the court’s jurisdiction; and (2) whether the requested writ is ‘‘necessary or appropriate.’’ United States v. Brown, 81 M.J. 1, 3 (C.A.A.F. 2021) (citation omitted).
Whether the requested writ is “in aid of” a court’s jurisdiction is determined by the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and whether the requested writ implicates the court’s subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Id. The CCAs are courts of limited jurisdiction—limited to the powers specifically granted them by statute. The authority to grant writs is not limited to cases in which jurisdiction has already been acquired. “Potential jurisdiction exists as long as some pathway to the lower court’s statutory jurisdiction remains.’’ Id. at 5. Once TJAG acts, whether to deny or grant some relief, the CCA has statutory jurisdiction under Article 66(b)(1)(D) to grant discretionary review of an appellant’s case.
To show that a writ of mandamus is necessary or appropriate, Appellant must establish three things: “(1) there is no other adequate means to attain relief; (2) the right to issuance of the writ is clear and indisputable; and (3) the issuance of the writ is appropriate under the circumstances.” Hasan v. Gross, 71 M.J. 416, 418 (C.A.A.F. 2012).
In cases such as Appellant’s, in which the Government did not file an Article 62 appeal and the approved sentence to confinement did not exceed six months, the only avenue for an appellant to obtain review by a CCA is through TJAG: by referral from TJAG or by the TJAG acting on an Article 69(a) application. Article 66(b)(1). As ACCA in Tate correctly held, without TJAG personally acting, as required by Article 69, ACCA is without jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Therefore, without the issuance of a writ of mandamus, there is no other adequate means to attain relief.
The right to the issuance of the writ in such cases is is clear and indisputable: TJAG failed to take action personally on Appellant’s case as required by Article 69, UCMJ. Finally, under all the circumstances, issuance of the writ would be appropriate in such cases.
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