Friday, June 24, 2011

CAAF Affirms in Martinez

In a case that garnered a bit of attention due to its unique granted issue (and later, because of a new JAG family member's arrival that delayed the oral argument), CAAF has affirmed the service court in US v. Martinez, finding error in the supervising judge's interference in the case, but failing to find any prejudice.  Based on the judges' questions at the argument, this result is not surprising.

This excerpt from Judge Erdmann's opinion provides a good summary of the problematic fact pattern:

Judge Boudreau’s communications with the trial counsel concerning the legal sufficiency of the providence inquiry and/or the legal sufficiency of the inquiry into the pretrial agreement involved substantive matters and it was plain and obvious error for her to initiate those ex parte communications with trial counsel during the trial. Compounding this error, Judge Boudreau entered the judge’s chambers during a recess she initiated as well as during the deliberations, and failed to inform Judge Molloy that she had been communicating ex parte with the prosecution.

While a portion of the oral argument focused on the question regarding at what point in time is appropriate to gauge the reasonable observer "knowing all the circumstances [would lead one] to the conclusion that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” the opinion doesn't seem to directly address this.  However, it seems the Court adopted the standard that the "reasonable observer" saw what took place in the courtroom, rather than any subsequent clemency or appellate remedies later fashioned, for part of the analysis, while the Court envisioned a "reasonable person" who knew of the post-trial actions in deciding whether to reverse the case for "appearance" reasons.

Speaking of clemency and appellate action, the appellate defense counsel's most difficult hurdle in getting the case overturned, one that ultimately proved insurmountable, remained the fact that the convening authority granted Martinez clemency based upon the appearance of partiality inherent in the rater judge's actions.
In addition, there was no allegation that either the concluding presiding military judge, nor the supervising judge, were actually biased against the appellant in this case.

In affirming ACCA's decision to uphold the conviction and sentence, CAAF undertook 2 analyses--first, determining whether Martinez suffered any substantive prejudice as the result of the supervising judge's improper actions, and 2) whether, even finding no prejudice, whether public confidence in the military justice system required granting any relief in this case.  For the second question, CAAF looked to the Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847 (1988), case from SCOTUS, which set out a 3-pronged test:  1) consider the risk of injustice to the parties in the particular case, 2) the risk that the denial of relief will produce injustice in other cases, and 3) the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process.