Ari Brown pled guilty to possession of child pornography in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. He had an odd plea bargain. He would receive 10 years if his prior court-martial conviction for an Article 134 offense was considered an enhancer under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, but only five years if it wasn't. The district court concluded that it was and sentenced him to confinement for 10 years. A unanimous 10th Circuit panel concluded it wasn't and sent the case back to the district court for resentencing.
While stationed at Fort Campbell, Brown was tried by a court-martial where he pled guilty to and was found guilty of violating Article 134 by "[v]iolat[ing] 18 U.S.C. § 2252 by wrongfully distributing one or more visual depictions of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct."
As the 10th Circuit explained,
Section 2252A(b)(2) provides for an enhanced sentencing range of no less than ten years' imprisonment if the defendant:Brown, slip op. at 4 (alterations in original).
has a prior conviction under this chapter [18 U.S.C. §§ 2251 et seq.], chapter 71 [18 U.S.C. §§ 1460 et seq.], chapter 109A [18 U.S.C. §§ 2241 et seq.], or chapter 117 [18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 et seq.], or under section 920 of title 10 (article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), or under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward, or the production, possession, receipt, mailing, sale, distribution, shipment, or transportation of child pornography . . . .
The 10th Circuit then went on to mischaracterize Article 134. It wrote, "There is no specific military code for the particular crime of which Mr. Brown was found guilty. Instead, he was convicted under clause 3 of Article 134 ('all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces . . .') which is something of a catchall provision. In order to convict Mr. Brown, the military court assimilated the elements of the crime from § 2252 – a federal child pornography statute." Id., slip op. at 5-6. So, oddly enough, the 10th Circuit quoted Article 134(2) when discussing Article 134(3). I'm not sure whether the 10th Circuit ever really grasped the "crimes and offenses not capital" concept that Article 134(3) actually covers or that provision's independence from the service discrediting and prejudice to good order and discipline prongs of Article 134.
Then, gaining somewhat firmer footing, the 10th Circuit observed that "Mr. Brown's prior conviction is for a violation of Article 134 – the catchall provision – and not § 2252. First, we are persuaded by the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase 'under this chapter.'" Id., slip op. at 6. The court held that "under this chapter" means "'governed by' or 'subject to' § 2252." Id. It doesn't mean "as defined by" or "related or akin to" § 2252. Id. In support, the 10th Circuit favorably cited an ACMR decision (written by Judge Wayne Alley while he was on ACMR) and an AFCCA decision. Id. at 7 (citing United States v. Almendarez, 46 C.M.R. 814 (A.C.M.R. 1972); United States v. Sanchez, 59 M.J. 566 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. 2003)).
Having decided that "Mr. Brown's conviction was under Article 134 and not § 2252," the 10th Circuit proceeded to decide whether an Article 134 conviction could be a sentence enhancer under § 2252. Id., slip op. at 9. It held that it could not. The court initially observed that the "language of § 2252A does not expressly include convictions under UCMJ Article 134 as a sentence-enhancer." Id. It then went on to apply one of my favorite canons of statutory construction. "Under the doctrine of expressio unius est exclusio alterius, 'to express or include one thing implies the exclusion of the other.'" Id., slip op. at 9-10 (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 620 (8th ed. 2004)). As we have seen, § 2252A expressly includes convictions under Article 120 of the UCMJ as the basis for a sentence enhancement under § 2252A. "Had Congress meant to include prior Article 134 convictions" as well as Article 120 convictions "as sentence-enhancers," the 10th Circuit ruled, "it could have easily done so explicitly." Id., slip op. at 10. The court concluded, "Because Congress amended the statute to include violations of the UCMJ and did not include Article 134, nor UCMJ violations relating to child pornography generally, we must agree with Mr. Brown that the plain language does not support the district court's interpretation." Id., slip op. at 11.
Finally, the 10th Circuit concluded that excluding Article 134 violations from the scope of § 2252A's sentence enhancement was "neither absurd nor irrational." Id. The 10th Circuit wrapped up this discussion by observing: "Although we need not – and cannot – determine Congress's precise reason for not including Article 134 convictions in the list of sentence-enhancers, we can safely conclude that it was not unthinkable for Congress to have intended this result." Id., slip op. at 14.