Saturday, July 11, 2009

Unpacking McCracken

First let's start with the easy and obvious point about the McCracken opinion that CAAF issued on Friday: all five judges agreed that NMCCA's resolution of the case was erroneous. Let's look at what NMCCA did.

Sgt McCracken was charged with a number of offenses including rape and adultery. The members found him not guilty of rape, but guilty of indecent assault as an LIO and guilty of adultery (plus a drunk and disorderly conviction). NMCCA concluded that the government hadn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Sgt McCracken had committed indecent assault. The panel then split 2-1 on the consequences of that decision. The NMCCA panel's majority affirmed a finding of guilty to indecent acts instead. Senior Judge Couch in dissent maintained that the majority erred by doing so because the theory upon which the majority affirmed a finding to indecent acts hadn't been presented to the members.

Sgt McCracken was carrying on a relationship while deployed in Iraq with a corporal who was married to an undeployed Marine. Until the night that led to the charges against Sgt McCracken, the relationship hadn't included intercourse. The married corporal testified that on that night, the two engaged in consensual "heavy petting" in Sgt McCracken's rack followed by Sgt McCracken taking off her bra against her wishes and then inserting his penis into her vagina against her wishes. Two other male Marines were in the room while all this was going on. Sgt McCracken denied that any nonconsensual activity took place. One of Sgt McCracken's roommates, who understandably considered the events that occurred in his room highly inconsiderate, reported it the following day.

In light of the consensual past relationship and the absence of any evidence that the married corporal reasonably manifested a lack of consent, NMCCA set aside the finding of guilty to indecent assault. United States v. McCracken, No. NMCCA 200600484, slip op. at 9 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 29, 2008). The NMCCA majority then observed:

We do, however, find that the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support a finding of guilty to the lesser included offense of indecent acts with another. The appellant's sexual interactions with Cpl M, a married Marine in his squadron, while in his BEQ room in the presence of his roommates, and which were witnessed by them, were indecent. Prejudice to good order and discipline was evident when Cpl Labounty hurled an alarm clock at the couple from his rack across the room when he finally became fed-up with their antics.
Id., slip op. at 9-10 (internal citations omitted).

Here are the main points of contention in CAAF's decision.

1. WHY is NMCCA's opinion erroneous?

A three-judge majority of CAAF concluded that NMCCA erred because, as a matter of law, "under the circumstances of this case, open and notorious indecent acts under Article 134 . . . was neither expressly nor inherently a lesser included offense of the charged offense of rape under Article 120 . . . ." United States v. McCracken, __ M.J. ___, No. 08-0440/MC, slip op. at 2 (C.A.A.F. July 10, 2009). The majority explained that NMCCA "affirmed on the ground that McCracken's conduct was open and notorious, which was not the factual basis upon which members were instructed" concerning an indecent acts LIO. Id., slip op. at 3. In his separate opinion, Judge Stucky flatly concludes that indecent acts isn't an LIO of rape. Judge Baker also concludes that the indecent acts conviction must be set aside, because NMCCA affirmed the indecent acts conviction "on the ground that Appellant's conduct was open and notorious" and there's no way to know whether the members would have voted to convict Sgt McCracken on that basis. I may be misreading the majority's opinion or Judge Baker's opinion or both, but to me it appears that they reverse NMCCA and set aside the indecent acts conviction on the same ground.

2. What is the right remedy for NMCCA's error?

This issue seems to be the most clearly resolved. Sgt McCracken was originally sentenced to confinement for one year, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a BCD, and reduction to E-1. Long after McCracken's entire period of confinement had elapsed, the NMCCA majority reassessed his sentence after reducing the indecent assault conviction to an indecent acts conviction and affirmed a sentence of confinement for six months, a BCD, and reduction to E-1. After setting aside the indecent acts conviction, CAAF was left with McCracken's convictions for adultery and drunk and disorderly. The CAAF majority concluded that setting aside the indecent acts conviction had "dramatically change[d] the penalty landscape in this case," thus requiring a sentence rehearing. Judge Baker didn't address the remedy, thus apparently agreeing with the majority. Judge Stucky summarily indicated that "[w]ith regard to the remedy, rather than order a sentence rehearing, I would remand to the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals for sentence reassessment."

3. Can one offense be a lesser-included offense of another offense based on their inherent relationship rather than on their elements?

Judge Stucky's opinion is the only one of the three to expressly address this issue. Here's how it arises. In the first sentence of the majority opinion, in an example of the BLUF format of opinion writing (which I love), Judge Erdmann writes, "we conclude as a matter of law that under the circumstances of this case, open and notorious indecent acts under Article 134 . . . was neither expressly nor inherently a lesser included offense of the charged offense of rape . . . ." McCracken, slip op. at 2 (emphasis added). This language doesn't directly indicate that one offense can be considered an LIO of another offense due to their inherent relationship, but it does seem to suggest, by negative implication, an endorsement of that concept. In his dissent, Judge Stucky sharply rejects that concept, observing that "[m]ore than fifteen years ago, this Court abandoned the 'inherent relationship' and 'fairly embraced' tests for lesser included offenses in favor of a statutory elements test." Citing the Supreme Court's opinion in Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705 (1989), Judge Stucky observed, "One offense is not a lesser included offense of another 'unless the elements of the lesser offense are a subset of the elements of the charged offense.' Schmuck, 489 U.S. at 716." Because indecent acts is an Article 134 offense and the terminal element of a 134 offense is not an element of a 120 offense, Judge Stucky concludes that the former can't be an LIO of the latter. In his separate concurrence, Judge Baker poses four questions, two of which implicate this point from Judge Stucky's separate opinion:

(2) Whether the elements test articulated in Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705, 716 (1989), precludes the President from delineating certain Article 134, UCMJ, offenses as lesser included offenses of enumerated offenses absent a statutory change to the enumerated offense;

(3) Whether the due process principles advanced in Schmuck can, as a matter of law, be satisfied through mechanisms of fair notice other than the elements test.
The majority in McCracken observed that such questions "are reserved for another day." McCracken, slip op. at 4 n.2. That day is coming soon. On 1 July, CAAF granted review of this issue:
United States v. Jones, __ M.J. ___, No. 09-0271/AF (C.A.A.F. July 1, 2009) (order).

Despite the majority's "reserv[ing] judgment" language in footnote 2, Judge Baker's concurrence suggests that "[i]t may well be that the majority opinion currently resolves each of [four questions he raises] by implication." In addition to the two questions noted above, Judge Baker asks:

(1) Whether or not the offenses expressly listed by the President as violations of Article 134, UCMJ, such as indecent acts, that are identified in the Manual for Courts-Martial, United States as a lesser included offense to a particular enumerated offense can satisfy the requirements of Article 79 . . . as a 'necessarily included' lesser offense'[];

. . . .

(4) What appellate effect, if any, does an agreement by the parties at trial that an offense is a lesser included offense have on the greater offense being considered on appeal.
Judge Baker's concurrence asks four questions, but it raises another question in my mind: what does footnote 1 of Judge Baker's concurrence mean?

I must be misconstruing footnote 1. In his concurrence, Judge Baker writes, "we cannot know whether the members would have found the act in question indecent because it was 'open and notorious' based on all the facts and circumstances had they not found Appellant guilty of indecent assault." He then drops a footnote that begins, "Had the members rejected the greater offense of rape and indecent assault, they would necessarily have been left with private consensual sexual conduct between unmarried persons in the absence of the evidence offered by the defense." Huh? Since Sgt McCracken was found guilty of adultery, presumably apart from any evidence offered by the defense, the members knew that this was NOT conduct "between unmarried persons." NMCCA's opinion tells us that the corporal with whom Sgt McCracken engaged in sexual activity was married to a Marine sergeant. So what does this language mean? Also, is conduct that occurs in a barracks room inhabited by two other Marines "private"? I would say not -- I certainly wouldn't say that the members "necessarily" would find such conduct private. Finally, what does "in the absence of the evidence offered by the defense" mean? This case doesn't involve an argument that the military judge erroneously denied a motion for finding of not guilty. Why would we look at the evidence "in the absence of the evidence offered by the defense"? When the case went to the members, that evidence was before them as well.

As I said, I must be misreading Judge Baker's concurrence, since it doesn't seem possible that he could have been suggesting that the sexual conduct in this case involved unmarried Marines. Can someone please explain to me what I'm missing?

The majority's opinion strikes me as a very narrow decision answering the narrow granted issue: "WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ERRED BY AFFIRMING A LESSER-INCLUDED OFFENSE BASED ON A THEORY OF CRIMINALITY NOT PRESENTED BY THE GOVERNMENT AT TRIAL." I see Judge Stucky's point about a negative implication suggested by the majority's opinion, though the majority certainly does not indicate that it is making law on that issue, but rather eschews doing so in footnote 2. And I'm largely confused by Judge Baker's concurrence, which seems to decide the issue on the same basis as the majority opinion.

Fortunately Jones will revisit this area of the law early next term. That case should answer many of the questions that McCracken raises.


Anonymous said...

You probably gave this more consideration than the people who actually wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Far more!!!

Anonymous said...


Mike "No Man" Navarre said...

I think I figured out one of the Judge Baker puzzles, but honestly the rest elludes me. "Unmarried" means not married to each other so as to take the conduct out of that zone of protection-e.g. Cohabitation.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Weymouth, Foster, and Oatney answer most of Judge Baker's LIO questions?

Anonymous said...

Foster is supposed to be dead. United States v. Miller, 67 M.J. 385 (10 Jun 2009)