Navigating Appeals: Options for Military Members Convicted of Sexual Assault in Washington State

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If you are a military member stationed in Washington state who has been convicted of sexual assault in a military court-martial, you may feel a range of emotions, including frustration, anger, and a sense of injustice. However, it’s important to know that your fight is not over. You have the opportunity to appeal your conviction or sentence through the legal system.

This guide will explore the legal process involved and the potential grounds for appealing a military sexual assault conviction, whether stationed in Washington state or anywhere in the world.

Understanding the Military Justice System

The military justice system operates under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which governs the prosecution of criminal offenses committed by active-duty military personnel. That same Code also governs military appeals. For convictions within the military system, a person is guaranteed a right to appeal in nearly all circumstances. That person will also be given a military appellate attorney to represent them, but they also have the option to retain an experienced, aggressive civilian attorney to take their case instead. For the best chance on appeal, a thorough review of the case file is needed by an attorney who knows how to win.

The Appeals Process for Military Convictions

If you have been convicted of sexual assault by a military court-martial, your first step in the appeals process is to file an appeal with the appropriate military appellate court. Depending on your branch of service, this will be the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals. These courts review all court-martial convictions.

A guide for military personnel in Washington state convicted of sexual assault, exploring appeal options through the legal system

These military appellate courts have the authority to review the legal proceedings, evidence, and sentencing in your case. They can either uphold the conviction and sentence, overturn the conviction, or modify the sentence. Importantly, these courts also have the power to review the “factual sufficiency” of your case, meaning that they will review the evidence presented to determine if it actually proved the crime. This is a unique and powerful authority of these military courts.

After review at one of the courts of criminal appeals, your next option will be to appeal your case to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. This court is not required to review cases, so it is necessary to petition the court for review. Generally, cases that are taken by this court are those with significant or important legal issues.

Following review here, you would have the option to petition for further review at the Supreme Court of the United States. Review here is exceptionally rare, but you have the right to request it in any military court-martial conviction.

Outside the military appellate courts, you may have the option to file a federal appeal of your conviction. These types of cases are generally considered collateral attacks and occur after all direct appeals within the military system are complete.

Grounds for Appealing a Military Sexual Assault Conviction

There are several potential grounds for appealing a military sexual assault conviction, including:

  1. Legal errors in the legal proceedings or trial process, such as improper referral
  2. Insufficient evidence to support the conviction
  3. Improper admission or exclusion of evidence
  4. Ineffective assistance of counsel
  5. Disproportionate or excessive sentencing
  6. Bias in the members who heard your case

It’s important to note that the appeals process is complex, and the specific grounds for appeal will depend on the unique circumstances of your case.

Potential Outcomes of a Military Sexual Assault Appeal

When appealing a military sexual assault conviction, there are several potential outcomes that can result from the appeals process. It’s important to understand these possibilities to manage expectations and prepare accordingly. The specific outcome will depend on the grounds for appeal and the findings of the appellate court. Here are some of the potential outcomes:

1. Conviction Set Aside: In some cases, the appellate court may determine that the conviction was reached in error or that there were significant legal or procedural flaws in the trial process. If this occurs, the conviction can be completely set aside, effectively clearing the individual’s record of the sexual assault charge. Depending on the facts of the case, a set aside may result in a complete dismissal with prejudice or a rehearing may be authorized.

2. Partial Set Aside: If the appellate court finds some errors but not others, it may set aside a portion of the guilty findings while keeping others. Depending on what charges or specifications are set aside, this can result in substantial relief in your sentence.

3. Sentence Reduction: Even if the conviction itself is upheld, the appellate court may determine that the sentence imposed was disproportionate or excessive. In such cases, the court can reduce the sentence, potentially leading to a shorter period of confinement, a lower level of punishment, or a reduction in other penalties.

4. Affirmation of Conviction and Sentence: It’s important to note that the appeals process does not guarantee a different outcome. In some cases, the appellate court may find that the original conviction and sentence were appropriate and uphold them as initially imposed.

A guide for military personnel in Washington state convicted of sexual assault, exploring appeal options through the legal system

5. Remand for Further Proceedings: In certain situations, the appellate court may remand (send back) the case to the lower court for further proceedings or reconsideration. This could involve additional fact-finding, a re-evaluation of evidence, or addressing specific legal issues identified by the appellate court.

It’s crucial to understand that the appeals process is complex, and the outcome can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the legal arguments presented. Consulting with an experienced military defense attorney can help navigate the process and increase the chances of a favorable outcome.

Given the complexity of the military justice system and the appeals process, it is highly recommended that you seek legal representation from an experienced military defense attorney. You only get one chance to file your appeal, and it is critical that you put forward the strongest possible arguments. A qualified attorney can review the details of your case, identify potential grounds for appeal, and guide you through the appeals process. Contact Military Trial Defenders Today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long after my conviction can I appeal?

The process begins right away, but you cannot file an appeal until after your case is docketed at the court of criminal appeals. This should happen within four months of your court-martial being complete.

Can I appeal if I pleaded guilty?

Yes, but the grounds for appeal may be limited compared to those available after a trial.

What is the process for reviewing a case for appeal?

Typically, an experienced advocate will want to review your Record of Trial prior to advising you on grounds for an appeal. This will ensure you understand your options and potential for success.

How long does the appeals process take?

The initial appeal process is likely to take 8-12 months, depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s schedule. It can take longer. Appeals to higher courts will add additional time to this process.

What happens if my appeal is denied?

If your appeal is denied, you may have other options, such as filing a collateral appeal or petitioning for clemency.



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