Navy SEAL Claims Unlawful Command Influence Impacted Court-Martial Outcome

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Q: Can I appeal a court-martial sex assault conviction due to unlawful command influence?

Military sexual assault appeal attorneys have their work cut out for them because such convictions are serious and lead to harsh penalties which include prison time and dishonorable discharge.

In recent years the military has cracked down hard on sexual assault and numerous revisions and amendments to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”) have made it easier to obtain convictions. That’s why it’s important for those defending a court-martial for sexual assault or for those appealing such a conviction to get an independent civilian attorney with military trial experience. Your reputation, freedom, and future are at stake. Don’t trust them to an often inexperienced and overworked court-appointed military attorney.

Court-martial appeals for sexual assault offer a wide variety of appealable issues. A recent case in which a highly-decorated Navy SEAL is appealing his sex assault court-martial conviction is the stuff blockbuster movies are made of.

According to the SEAL, “he engaged in consensual anal intercourse on the last day of the month long intense sexual relationship with a woman he had met through a friend.” The woman claims she did not consent to “that type of contact after willingly being tied up “by the officer. The SEAL was convicted by a judge after court-martial.

The trial’s convening authority, now retired Rear Admiral Lorge, reportedly reviewed the evidence and told his legal advisors he was going to override the guilty verdict. The legal advisors reportedly notified superiors resulting in two JAG Navy Admirals (DeRenzi and Crawford) allegedly “personally intervening” and pushing for his approval of the conviction. He then reportedly succumbed to the pressure to show the military doesn’t “sweep sexual assault under the rug”, approved the conviction, and about two years later came forward as a matter of conscience. The SEAL had already served 30 months of a three-year sentence and had been dishonorably discharged.

Based on the sworn affidavit of the retired Rear Admiral, the SEAL’s attorneys filed an appeal accusing “the Navy’s two highest ranking lawyers” of committing unlawful command influence, and have asked the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to appoint an “investigative special master”. The Navy opposed the bid for a special master arguing that standard protocol requires the case be sent to a convening authority where the court-martial was originally held. In a completely bizarre twist of fate, “the convening authority would be appointed by the accused JAG Crawford”.

This scenario is a prime example of why retaining an independent civilian attorney with military trial experience is critical in court-martial defense and appeal cases. Unlawful command influence is real. What kind of defense do you think an overworked inexperienced court-appointed military defense counsel would put up against the highest ranked officers and JAGs in the Navy? A Few Good Men may be the most famous JAG film of all time, but it’s just a movie and Tom Cruise won’t save you. So, find someone who can.

If you are facing a court-martial defense or have been convicted and need help with a court-martial appeal, the Denver-based attorneys at Elkus, Sisson & Rosenstein, P.C. have years of experience on high profile cases in both the trial and appellate courts and will aggressively fight for you. Whether you are stationed in the United States or in other locations around the world, we are ready and willing to represent you. Call us for a free consultation at 719 247-3111.

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