Details Matter for Military Justice
I finished up a trial convinced the prosecutors don’t bother to listen to the alleged victim’s videotaped interview. Ever. They rely instead on the summary in military law enforcement reports. Typically, the first time they address with the alleged victim the nature of her complaint is the Sunday before a trial that starts on Monday or Tuesday. And they wonder why they lose, again and again.
My real analysis of a case and the weakness of the complaint starts with a verbatim transcript of the alleged victim’s law enforcement interview.
People do not hear every detail when it is said to them. When law enforcement officers listen to an interviewee, even when they are taking notes, there are details they miss. The details matter.
The easiest way and most effective way to process those details is in reading a verbatim transcript. Often, the alleged victim’s complaint is not internally consistent. What do I mean? Well, in my most recent trial, the alleged victim’s law enforcement interview contained in the same sentence that the alleged assault occurred at three different time periods. First, she said it was morning, then immediately thereafter said it was at night, and then said it occurred at 4pm. She explained her inconsistencies as being confused by the day. Say what?
From having interviewed in detail each of the (several) “outcry” witnesses, I knew that she had called them each at a different time of day, and she had given them each the impression by her shaky voice and her words that he had “just left” that each of these witnesses was the first and only person to whom she had reported. Seriously? Details matter. It would be easy to miss if you were not reading the transcript of it.
Another example from the same case: she claimed that she was so worried about the next female whose barracks room was to be inspected that she called her to warn her. In the same paragraph, she alleged that she waited a half hour to call because she wanted to verify whether the other female had been inspected, and she claimed that when she called the female verified that she had not been inspected. When I interviewed the other female, she stated that she called her and told her that she had been inspected, so the female says she hung up the phone and headed to the kitchen to cook her dinner. Wow. Scintillating.
In fact, the alleged victim claimed in her sworn statement to law enforcement that she called everyone in her entire platoon, and each had verified that they had not been inspected. No one bothered to verify whether any of that was true. On the stand, before our very eyes, the alleged victim changed her story to assert that she called two, and the others were verified as not having been inspected by “someone she trusted” to tell her after that other person checked. When asked who the trusted person was, she could not recall.
If it wasn’t so tragic and if my client was not a human being who was made to suffer through this process, it would almost be comical. But he is very much a human being, and it is far from amusing when were the government doing its job, all of this would be illuminated far before anyone recommended these kinds of allegations go forward to a federal felony trial.
Details matter, and it does not take long to transcribe 33 pages of a verbatim transcript. I’ll leave for another day that my client’s multi-hour interrogation was nearly 90 pages. I’m certain the government counsel didn’t bother to watch his encounter with law enforcement either, let alone to transcribe it.
Prosecution (and defense) takes careful analysis, time, and genuine caring. To get it right, each and every time, in each and every case. Details matter, and the act of directing a paralegal or court reporter to transcribe the allegation is a small task when compared to the weighty responsibility of ensuring justice.
Thankfully, the panel took note of the alleged victim’s credibility and our client walked away from the trial a free man.
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