Army appeals court overturns unanimous guilty verdict warrant in officer’s sexual assault trial


US Army Judge Col. Charles Pritchard’s ruling that a unanimous guilty verdict was needed to convict an officer charged with sexual assault has been overturned by the Army’s highest court of appeals. (US Air Force)

STUTTGART, Germany — A Germany-based military judge’s ruling that a unanimous guilty verdict was needed to convict an army officer charged with sexual assault has been overturned by the service’s highest appeals court.

Lt. Col. Andrew Dial first faced a court martial in January, but proceedings were delayed after military judge Col. Charles Pritchard said allowing a split verdict would violate Dial’s constitutional rights .

Prosecutors challenged that decision in the Army Criminal Appeals Court, arguing that Pritchard’s decision was based on flawed reasoning.

In a June ruling, the appeals court agreed, saying it was not persuaded by the argument that because military and civilian court procedures are generally similar, military defendants are “in the same situation” as their civilian counterparts.

“We rather subscribe to the well-established view that ‘the military is a specialized society distinct from civilian society’ which has, of necessity, developed its own laws and traditions over its long history,” the court said. .

He also issued a relatively rare writ of prohibition to prevent a lower court, in this case Kaiserslautern, from overstepping his authority. Pritchard’s decision “was wrong and our investigation is complete,” the appeals court ruled.

Dial, a member of the Allied Forces North Battalion based in Belgium, will stand trial on three counts of sexual assault at a court martial in October in Kaiserslautern.

Pritchard’s decision came in response to a query from Dial’s defense team. His lawyers claimed that Congress had consistently narrowed the gap between the military and civilian legal systems, bringing the former more in line with the latter.

For this reason, service members should have the same rights as their civilian counterparts regarding the need for unanimous guilty verdicts, Pritchard said.

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court struck down laws in Oregon and Louisiana that allowed defendants to be convicted without jury unanimity on guilt. They were the last two states with this threshold.

Dial’s court-martial is to last five days. No judge for the case has yet been appointed.

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