A military appeals court has contained the legal fallout from harsh words spoken by the commandant of the Marine Corps.
In an unpublished decision, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals on Jan. 31 rejected the pleas of former Marine Corps Sgt. Roger E. Easterly. Easterly, like a number of other Marines charged with sexual assault or related allegations, had contended the public comments by the commandant, Gen. James Amos, amounted to unlawful command influence.
Starting in April 2012, feeling some political heat, Amos through a series of speeches called the "heritage brief" had demanded that the Marine Corps "get rid" of those who are "not acting right," and he opined that "80 percent of (allegations) are legitimate sexual assault."
That same year, Easterly was convicted of assault and adultery for his alleged actions at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
Putting other judges on notice to take these matters seriously, the military appeals court in its new ruling concluded Easterly's trial judge "clearly erred" in essentially brushing off the unlawful command influence claims. Beyond that, though, the court sided with the government.
The appeals court declared that they did "not find any evidence of actual command influence" at trial.
Whether or not there was the appearance of unlawful command influence -- an issue the appeals court did not decide -- the panel said the fact that Easterly was acquitted of several serious charges, including rape, demonstrated there was no apparent UCI, as did the fact that he did not receive the maximum possible sentence.
Thinking aloud, Suits & Sentences has some questions about this reasoning. A command-influenced court martial panel could well have ruled against the rape charge because of lack of evidence, but then felt compelled by the commandant's words not to let the accused completely off the hook, right? Isn't the question not whether accused was convicted of most serious charge, but whether any conviction would have occurred but-for the command influence?
Marine Corps Capt. David Peters represented Easterly on appeal. The invaluable CAAFlog website has more.