Hi, let’s talk about evidence. So my name’s Sean Mangan. I’m an attorney with the Law Office of Jocelyn Stewart. I’m a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and former military judge, and I now represent individual service members and police officers in legal matters. And I often get this question when people are coming to us for help and say, I don’t see how they can do anything to me. They don’t have any evidence, right? And what that usually means is, that someone has accused that soldier or marine or sailor of a crime or of misconduct, and there is no photograph, there’s no video, there’s no DNA, there’s no fingerprints, there’s no second witness. And so in their mind, they say there is no evidence. And they’re shocked to find out that in today’s day and age with the accountability expectations of the Armed Forces and what the national leadership wants our military leadership to do, is that evidence, all this evidence required often may be the accuser’s word. And legally that is accurate because the testimony of an individual, someone who is willing to go under oath and say X happened or this person did this, certain crime is evidence.
It may not be corroborated evidence. And that’s something that is potentially open to challenge if we get ourselves into a trial setting, where we can raise reasonable doubt or we can go to a board and say that this really doesn’t tip the needle over to more likely than not to establish a preponderance of the evidence. But as far as the existence of evidence, we will say that it definitely, definitely is something that exists. And so as soon as someone is willing to go on record against you and say you did something that is evidence that you did something. It may not be the strongest, but it is certainly in today’s military justice world, enough to support not only an investigation to happen, but sometimes even to have an entire court martial happen on that. Now, this is sometimes confused when we talk about someone has a statement against them and they say, where all they have a bunch of statements against me.
We like to take a closer look when we’re looking at investigation to dig through statements, because a lot of times we’ll have five statements that says, Joe did X. And the question we want to ask is, is a person who wrote Joe did X, did that person see Joe do that? Or did person number one tell persons number two through four what Joe did? And they wrote it as fact? So there’s an important difference in our mind between hearsay, which is not admissible under the rules of evidence, largely with some exceptions, and firsthand personal knowledge, right? And that’s somebody who’s into eyewitness. Of course there’s the entire issue then of circumstantial versus direct evidence, as we say. When I was a military judge, we used to read an instruction that says circumstantial evidence. It rained the night before. As you go out in the morning and you see the street is wet. Direct evidence is if you actually saw or someone testified that it was actually raining. Both of them are admissible and members of the panel, the jurors in a military justice system or a judge sitting as a a court martial judge alone, can give whatever weight to circumstantial evidence versus direct evidence. In fact, it’s completely possible for direct evidence to be overcome or outweighed by circumstantial evidence. And so that’s why it’s incredibly important to have someone who understands how evidence is admissible and understands how evidence is going to be potentially weighed and argued to take a look at your case. And for that, I highly recommend you contact someone who can help you with that. Now, the good news is you’ve got a couple places you can go.
If you’re an active duty service member, you can go to your local legal office and get help fromthe trial defense service if you’re in the Army or the Area Defense Council. If you’re in the Air Force or if you’re in the Navy or Marine Corps, the defense service officer, DSO attorney. You also can contact a law firm and get some legal advice. Some law firms like ours do free confidential legal consultations over the phone at different hours of the day and sometimes on weekends as well. But either way if you’ve got a circumstance where you’re not sure what you’re dealing with, it is in your best interest to be proactive, get informed, and educate yourself and take those initial steps. And that’s what we’re here to help with.
Sean Mangan is a UCMJ court-martial attorney who specializes in defense of allegations of sexual assault for all branches of the military worldwide.
Contact the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart at 253-212-958
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