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Saturday, February 02, 2008

#365 War Story #10 Legal Counsel

While watching the film, Breaker Morant, I was reminded of my days on active duty. The procedures of the trial of the three Australians reminded me of my opportunities to participate in the military justice system. As a commissioned officer, there were times I would be called upon to perform the duties of trial counsel, defense cousel, or sit on the courts martial board. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ allows for three levels of court, summary, special and general. These proceedings were always of great interest to me. It is possible the law would have been a good calling for me, but that is another story.

There are two cases that come to mind as I reflect on the film. The first one I will relate now and the other will be a subsequent post.

I was the senior lieutenant in the company and was appointed
as a defense counsel. It was my first case. Some classified for training documents were found among some trash that had been dumped in the woods on post. They were inappropriately dumped. There were strict procedures for the destruction of classified documents, whether classified for training purposes only, as these were, or the real thing. It didn't take very long to determine the origin of the documents. The Battalion Commander caused an investigation that subsequently led to charges being filed against several personnel in communications section. I was appointed their defense counsel.

In accordance with the UCMJ, I informed the defendants who I was and what I was appointed to do. At first it seemed like a clear cut case. The documents were found, they were classified for training purposes only, the origin was easily determined, the defendants were also easily identified. Trial counsel considered it open and shut.

Since this was the first trial for me, and I had always been intrigued by Perry Mason, my next step was to confer with a military lawyer at the JAG office. With that attorney's guidance, my investigation discovered that there was a break in the chain of custody of the evidence. That is a extremely important aspect of the trial.

The defendants pleaded not guilty. Upon presenting testimony that showed the break in the custody chain of the evidence, and the effort to read the regulations pertaining to such, the court found in favor of the defendants.

Some important lessons were learned by all that day.

  • The folks who found the evidence tightened up their methods of handling future, collected evidence.
  • Our battalion had additional training on the proper disposition of classified documents.
  • I learned that it isn't always necessary to read the regulations to the board. (The president of the board told me, in no uncertain terms, it wouldn't be necessary to do so.)
A reputation can be earned as the "go-to guy" if you need a defense counsel. That will lead to the posting of a future war story.

To read previous nine war stories click on label, War Stories at the right.


1 comment:

Skunkfeathers said...

Interesting insider perspective!