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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Smith - 68 M.J. 445 (C.A.A.F. 2010)

Rule:

Testimony is material if it is of consequence to the determination of a defendant's guilt. In determining whether evidence is of consequence to the determination of defendant's guilt, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces considers the importance of the issue for which the evidence was offered in relation to the other issues in the case, the extent to which this issue was in dispute, and the nature of other evidence in the case pertaining to this issue.

Facts:

A case was filed against a cadet of the U.S. Coast Guard for sexual misconduct, particularly sodomy, extortion, and indecent assault in violation of Unif. Code Mil. Justice arts. 125, 127, and 134. At trial, the military judge limited the cadet's cross-examination of his accuser despite his request to introduce evidence under Mil. R. Evid. 412(c)(1), Manual Courts-Martial that his accuser initially had claimed that sexual encounters with an enlisted member were nonconsensual but then later admitted that they had been consensual. The cadet was convicted. On appeal, the United States Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and denied his motion for reconsideration.

Issue:

Was the cadet denied of his constitutional right to confront his accuser?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court concluded that further cross-examination of the accuser was not constitutionally required. The court held that assuming arguendo that the exact nature of her indiscretion was relevant, it was neither material nor vital to defendant's defense. The military judge allowed him to present a fairly precise and plausible theory of bias by allowing the members to be informed that the accuser’s secret was information that, if revealed, could have an adverse impact on her career, including possible disciplinary action. Nor was cross-examining the accuser about her sexual past vital, as the issue was not whether she had engaged in consensual sex or had lied about it, but rather whether she lied about an important issue that would impeach her credibility. The court declined to embrace a broad reading of Rule 412 that would allow defendant to posit that her past indiscretion and her lies about it gave her similar motive to lie about her relationship with him.

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