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Rape Conviction Overturned by Military Court Due to Jury Composition

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By Debbie Gregory.

The nation’s highest military court has thrown out the 2012 rape conviction of a Coast Guard enlisted man because admirals and prosecutors packed the seven-member jury with five women, four of whom held jobs as advocates for victims of sexual assault.

In a 5-0 ruling that could change how the military conducts sex abuse trials, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces tossed out the conviction of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John C. Riesbeck.

The decision speaks to the way politics influences command choices regarding military justice. From the Coast Guard commandant down to an appellate court to the original trial judge, the high court said all contributed to a “stain on the military justice system.”

Riesbeck claimed a biased jury panel had infringed on his right to a fair trial after he was convicted. He was sentenced to three months’ confinement, demotion, and a bad conduct discharge.

Four admirals had a hand in the final panel: Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft; Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown, then-commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area & Defense Forces West; Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, then-Pacific Area deputy commander; and Rear Adm. June Ryan, then-Pacific Area chief of staff.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but its 40,000 personnel — about 10 percent of whom are women — come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as do all military personnel.

“It is gratifying to see a female judge pushing back against the ‘Me Too’ meme by insisting on due process for the accused Coast Guardsman as well as the accuser in this case,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. “The court also deserves praise for holding accountable Admiral Zukunft, who was involved in what Judge Margaret A. Ryan described as ‘gender-based court stacking’ with professional victims advocates.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Joe Chamblin Wins Again in Court

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By Debbie Gregory.

Once again, a military court has voided the conviction of former Marine Staff Sgt. Joe Chamblin, who was filmed urinating on Taliban corpses during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. The video was first posted by TMZ in January 2012, prompting an international backlash.

Chamblin was sentenced to 30 days’ confinement. The resulting demotion to sergeant ultimately ended his Marine Corps career.

Last November, five years after the initial sentence, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the case be set aside because of apparent unlawful command influence, which occurs when a senior military officer uses his or her position of authority to influence legal proceedings. The ruling cited the actions of now-retired Gen. James Amos, who was commandant of the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2014, and some of his senior staff members.

Then-Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who was initially appointed to oversee the sniper prosecutions, testified that Gen. Amos met with him and told him the defendants needed to be “crushed” for their actions.

Waldhauser, now a four-star general overseeing U.S. Africa Command, later told Amos that he had decided against sending any of the Marines to a general court-martial, the military’s most serious form of trial.  Shortly thereafter, Waldhauser was replaced by another general.

According to Waldhauser, Amos said at the time that he had “crossed the line” in his previous conversation and was removing Waldhauser as a remedy.

The Marine Corps failed to notify the accused Marines and their attorneys why Waldhauser was removed.

The appellate judges also considered the decision by the Marine Corps’ top lawyer at that time to remove another attorney on the case who had protested what he considered the “irregular classification of evidence.”

The ruling specifically blamed Amos for complicating the case.

The government has two months to decide whether to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) to consider the case. For the military, CAAF is the final appellate step before the Supreme Court.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.