Outside Pressure On Members

United States v. Arriaga, No. 37439, 2009 WL 289806 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. May. 07, 2010) deals with outside pressure on members. The issue before the court was did the command safety briefings addressing a series of unrelated sexual assaults unfairly influence appellant’s court-martial for sexual assault. Appellant was charged with sexual misconduct involving two different female victims on Shaw Air Force Base. The first victim was an Airman who was dating a friend of appellant’s. They were sleeping over at appellant’s quarters when appellant confronted the victim in the bathroom, grabbing her hip and groping her breast while appellant was completely naked. The second victim was a married neighbor who had fallen asleep in her own home while watching a football game. Appellant entered without permission and allegedly put his hand down the sleeping victim’s pants. During the timeframe before appellant’s trial, there were a series of sexual assaults on the base that involved an intruder who used a weapon. The wing commander responded by giving one briefing to 250-300 dorm residents and another to approximately 100 military members and civilians at a town hall meeting. The briefings stressed the importance of using a wingman, or battle buddy to ensure safety. The commander also issued an e-mail briefing of similar content and directed that flyers be posted on bulletin boards urging vigilance. At trial, appellant alleged UCI. During voir dire, each member was questioned about their knowledge of the briefings and flyers. There was no evidence that the briefings or flyers would have any impact on the members.

The court held that the actions of the commander did not constitute unlawful command influence. The briefings were focused on safety and did not make reference to appellant’s case nor indicate any type of disciplinary action was preferred. Further, the panel members were questioned and none indicated that the briefings would impact their ability to sit on appellant’s case.

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