Tuesday, October 09, 2007

ACCA's Zak opinion

Specialist Zak and Specialist C were good friends. The prosecution and defense cases agreed that one night, after Specialist C had consumed large amounts of alcohol, Specialist Zak inserted his penis into her vagina. But the prosecution and defense presented very different accounts of what led up to this.

The prosecution and defense also agreed that two months before the incident, while the two were watching a movie together, Specialist C reenacted a scene from a movie by going into Zak's kitchen, removing her shirt, and spraying whipped cream over her breasts. The two's account of this event varied slightly.

Zak contended that two to four weeks after that incident, he gave a full body massage to Specialist C, by the end of which she was clad only in her panties. Specialist C denied that event occurred. The military judge refused to allow Zak to testify to the members about that event, relying on Military Rule of Evidence 412 and ruling:

I do not believe that this incident happened. I find the accused's testimony to be self-serving and incredible. If such an incident had happened, surely it would have been mentioned by the accused before now, and surely it would have been part of the original defense motion for the 412 relief. The accused admitted as much in cross examination when he stated that he considers a massage given in a semi-nude state to be "sexual activity."


Held: Reversed. United States v. Zak, __ M.J. ___, No. ARMY 20050051 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 5, 2007).

CAAF has emphasized, "In applying Mil. R. Evid. 412, the judge is not asked to determine if the proferred evidence is true; it is for the members to weigh the evidence and determine its veracity." United States v. Banker, 60 M.J. 216, 622 (C.A.A.F. 1996).

Citing this provision from CAAF's Banker opinion, ACCA ruled:
We disagree . . . with the military judge's exclusion of evidence of appellant's mostly-nude massage of SPC C. The footnote to the military judge's findings referencing the massage clearly reveals that she did not evaluate the evidence under the two-prong analysis required under Mil. R. Evid. 412 and the Banker and [United States v. Andreozzi, 60 M.J. 727 (A. Ct. Crim. App. 2004), petition denied, 62 M.J. 309 (C.A.A.F. 2005)] decisions . . . . Rather, she excluded the evidence because she did not "believe that this incident happened" and found appellant's "testimony to be self-serving and incredible." . . . [The] military judge's ruling on the veracity of the evidence usurped the role of the panel members, was clear error, and, as a result, an abuse of discretion. At a Mil. R. Evid. 412(c)(2) hearing, the military judge is to determine whether the evidence is relevant and falls into one of the listed exceptions -- not whether the evidence is true.

Zak, No. ARMY 20050051, slip op. at 12 (internal citations omitted).

3 comments:

Phil Cave said...

This is good.
All too often that's the prosecution argument for why 412 isn't admissible - that's it's not true or didn't happen. The prosecution goes to a lot of effort to put on evidence, usually the alleged victim to say the 412 information isn't true.
Fortunately, most MJs see past that.

Gene Fidell said...

Kudos to my partner Matt Freedus, who won this case.

No Man said...

While I think the law and analysis are mostly correct, the opinion is oddly un-CCA-like in its prejudice analysis. Here is the bottom line of the prejudice analysis from page 13-14 of the opinion:

If one adds, however, appellant’s testimony concerning the subsequent, mostly-nude massage, then the panel may have believed that this was a friendship with escalating sexually charged events. As a result, the panel may have accepted as reasonable
appellant’s belief that SPC C consented to sexual activity on the night in question.

As a result, we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the military judge’s exclusion of this evidence was harmless and did not contribute to the finding of guilty to rape.

If, as the Court stated earlier, the main question was whether "SPC C was in a blackout state where she appeared to be consenting to sexual activity," what does it matter that the Specialist's relationship was becoming more sexual? If she was too drunk to consent, isn't their relationship irrelevant? See para. 45c.(1)(b) of the Manual. Not that I am saying the evidence was irrelevant to a ultimate question of guilt or innocence, or that the judge should decide whether the testimony was true or not, I am just surprised about this analysis coming from ACCA. Admittedly I know nothing about Judges Kirby, Olmsheid, and Gallup (say that three times fast). Maybe wartime has mello-ed career officers.