• Appeals court shows public how it works

  • “It is an excellent system, we’re proud of it, and we want to let people see it,” said CAAF Chief Judge Scott Stucky.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    In the late 1980s, former Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Chief Judge Robinson Everett established the CAAF Project Outreach as part of a public awareness program to demonstrate the operation of a federal court of appeals and the military criminal justice system by allowing the public to witness the oral arguments of a case brought before the CAAF.
    For the first time in the 30 years of the program, oral arguments were heard on Fort Leavenworth in front of hundreds of service members and civilians April 10 in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Eisenhower Auditorium.
    “It is an excellent system, we’re proud of it, and we want to let people see it,” said CAAF Chief Judge Scott Stucky.
    According to the official CAAF website, the court, presided over by five presidentially-appointed 15-year term judges, addresses a broad range of legal issues, and all decisions are subject to direct review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
    The CAAF typically conducts oral arguments at a courthouse in Washington, D.C., but through Project Outreach the court also conducts oral arguments at outside entities such as law schools, military bases and other public facilities once or twice per year.
    “This is our effort to try and engage in the education of people out in the world,” said CAAF Judge Kevin Ohlson. “Our hope is that by demonstrating how the process works and showing that there truly is due process in the military (and) that the rights of service members are protected, but show there are also certain aspects to the military that are different.”
    Stucky said the lack of knowledge began with the end of the Vietnam War.
    “Back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, a significant proportion of American men had been in the armed forces, so they knew something about service in the armed forces and by stance, they knew maybe something about the military justice system,” he said.
    “But, after Vietnam, the number of American men and women who served in the armed forces on active duty went way down. Still, the military justice system, believe it or not, covers about two million people. I think certainly a lawyer ought to know something about a system of criminal justice, (and) an informed citizen ought to know something about this even if he is not under it, because two million of his fellow citizens are.”
    All five CAAF judges attended the hearing.
    The case argued was the United States vs. Staff Sgt. Michael Harris. According to the CAAF Project Outreach site, Harris was convicted of possession of child pornography and desertion at the general court-martial. The CAAF agreed to hear oral arguments on whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erroneously affirmed the military judge’s denial of 291 days of credit for pretrial confinement that the appellant served in a civilian confinement facility awaiting disposition of state offenses for which he was later court-martialed.
    Page 2 of 2 - Following the oral arguments, the court recessed and the audience was given an opportunity to ask questions of the judges and the attorneys.
    Several attendees said they learned a lot by listening to the oral arguments.
    “It was really interesting seeing the way both of the attorneys would answer the questions from each of the judges’ perspectives and all of the views that they had,” said Sgt. Cara Murrell, special victim’s prosecutor noncommissioned officer and paralegal for Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth. “It is very interesting just to see the way their minds would work the puzzle and answer all the questions.
    “I aspire to be an attorney one day, so getting to see it, it has kind of refueled and re-inspired me,” she said. “It helps me see what’s expected and the way the judges pepper the attorneys with questions and how important it is to be prepared because you have to think through all the parts and all the facets of what you’re arguing.”
    Capt. Gabe Devaux, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate trial council, said he thought it was great that the CAAF came to Fort Leavenworth.
    “Leavenworth, because of (the Command and General Staff College) and the (U.S.) Disciplinary Barracks, presents a lot of unique cases and unique circumstances that other installations don’t have, so I think it is great they were able to come here,” Devaux said. “Although it is a small installation, it has a lot of unique characteristics.”
    Devaux said it was great exposure for him personally, too.
    “That could be me one day, in their seats, arguing a case before the court,” he said. “The more exposure I can get to arguments and seeing the attorneys do their job, the better I can be as an attorney, as a trial council and just improving my own abilities.”
    Stucky said those who attend the oral arguments are not the only ones who enjoy it.
    “The judges enjoy doing it,” he said. “I think it is worth doing.”
    The oral arguments presented before the court will be conferenced by the judges next week, Stucky said. All cases brought before the CAAF are petitioned for review. Two out of five judges have to vote to take the case. Oral arguments conducted at outside entities are by invitation only.
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