Senior Military Officer has Sexual Assault Court-Martial Case Dismissed and Dropped During Trial (UCMJ Article 120)
Recently, a senior military officer defended by attorney Richard V. Stevens had the sexual assault of a minor court-martial case he faced dismissed and dropped by the military in the middle of trial (UCMJ Article 120)
When the allegations were made, the senior officer client was in the midst of a protracted and bitter divorce and custody dispute. His former wife sought full custody of their children, and not only refused shared custody, she refused to comply with the court-ordered shared child custody plan. She amassed thousands of dollars of fines from the civilian family court as she refused to comply, to the point that she claimed serious financial problems because of them.
In the midst of this custody fight, the former wife began to claim the client sexually abused their oldest daughter. The daughter was interviewed multiple times by child abuse experts, and did not back up these claims. However, as the custody fight dragged on and the daughter got older and became a “tween” and young teen, she took her mother’s side in the custody fight. At that point, the daughter/complainant was openly disagreeing with her father’s rules and she didn’t want to stay with her father far away from her friends and her life with her mother. In messages to her father, she made it clear that she did not want to live with him because of his rules, and she mentioned nothing about alleged sexual abuse. Despite multiple previous professional interviews denying abuse, the teen complainant began to agree with her mother’s allegations that the accused military officer sexually abused her. However, there were few details about alleged events that were given; instead, there were vague, conclusory claims that “He sexually abused me over the years” and “I want to live with my mother.”
Civilian child abuse and law enforcement professionals who interviewed and dealt with the mother and her teen daughter repeatedly talked to them about concerns that the mother was coaching and manipulating the complainant, and these concerns were documented. Still, the mother and teen daughter persisted. Their statements to professionals contained many inconsistencies and troublingly obvious statements that this would be used by the mother to gain full custody of the children.
Despite these sexual abuse claims, the civilian family court did not change the custody arrangement, likely due to the lack of credibility of the mother’s civilian court testimony, as compared to what was documented in the professional record. The mother and daughter then came to the military, made the abuse claims to the military, got a no-contact order prohibiting contact between the accused military officer and his daughter, and then – after years of fighting about custody – the civilian family court scheduled to make a final custody determination based on the outcome of the military criminal case. The mother and daughter’s motives were clear and obvious.
The military charged the accused senior officer with child sexual abuse, and the case proceeded to an Article 32 hearing. The Article 32 hearing was presided over by a military judge, serving as Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO). The PHO was highly critical of the credibility and motives of the teen complainant and her mother. However, despite the PHO’s analysis, the military proceeded to trial against the accused military senior officer.
Just prior to trial, the complainant finally made a sexual abuse allegation that contained details about date, time, and location. While this was a new allegation against the accused that the complainant never made before – despite numerous prior professional interviews – this new allegation at least contained details that could be attacked by the defense.
At trial, the first witness called by the government was the teen complainant. During her direct testimony, she generally claimed she had been sexually abused by the accused over the years, and then she specifically described the one incident that she had raised right before trial. Based on the details of that incident, that it occurred on the night of a specific event, she could not claim the date was not exact or might be wrong. When the defense cross-examination began, the complainant was confronted with text messages she sent that night that directly contradicted her allegation. The text messages she exchanged with her father that night proved that she was not even with her father that night, as she claimed.
When she was confronted with her own text messages, she became upset and left the witness stand. She said she was going to quit the case. As we waited for confirmation that she would not continue, she changed her mind and took the witness stand again. We started cross-examination again for a few more minutes. The teen complainant claims she has multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder). So, when she took the witness stand again, she claimed she was confused about that incident because she was not the complainant at all, she was testifying as a male psychological “alter,” one of 25 alters in her head. At that point, still early in the defense trial cross-examination, the trial was recessed again to address the witness claiming she was not (psychologically) the girl named as the alleged victim on the charge sheet, she was an older boy “alter.”
What followed was a series of motion hearings and many details that are not necessary to recount for this blog post. Ultimately, the Convening Authority dismissed the case against the accused with prejudice. The case was dropped in the middle of trial cross-examination. This circus case was finally over for the accused, at least in the military.
Had there been a court-martial trial and sex crime conviction in this case, the military officer client could have been sentenced to a punitive discharge, a lengthy term of confinement in prison (possibly decades) and, in addition, he would have been required to register as a sex offender. His retirement would have been lost, and his future employment, education, and social opportunities would be destroyed. Thankfully, the truth was exposed, the court-martial case was dropped, and the military senior officer client was spared this risk of devastation to his future.
While this military court-martial and sexual assault case was successfully defended, it is important to understand that every case has different facts, and success in previous cases does not guarantee success in any particular future case. No military lawyer or civilian defense lawyer, including those who specialize in military law, can guarantee the outcome of any military trial or case.
For more information about the military justice system, particularly cases alleging rape and/or sexual assault in violation of UCMJ Article 120, please see: https://militaryadvocate.com/military-offenses/sex-crimes/
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