Ruling that overturned the split verdict conviction of the court martial counts in the Army Court of Appeals

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The US Army Criminal Appeals Court has said it will decide whether to uphold a lower court’s ruling that a unanimous verdict would be needed to convict a lieutenant colonel accused of sexual assault. (US Air Force)

An army appeals court will soon adopt a Germany-based military judge’s January ruling that a unanimous guilty verdict will be needed to convict an officer of sexual assault at his court-martial.

A hearing is scheduled for April 14 at Fort Belvoir in Va., the US Army Criminal Appeals Court, which is the highest court in the service, said in a March 22 filing.

The court agreed to hear the case in response to an appeal from prosecutors, who argue Colonel Charles Pritchard’s decision in Lt. Col. Andrew Dial’s case was based on faulty legal reasoning.

Pritchard ruled that allowing a split guilty verdict would violate Dial’s Fifth Amendment rights by denying him equal protection.

Dial, a member of the Allied Forces North Battalion based in Belgium, was due to stand trial in January in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on three counts of sexual assault.

However, proceedings against Dial were delayed after prosecutors filed a lawsuit. Pritchard concluded that there was “no rational basis” for allowing military defendants to be sentenced below a lower threshold than that which applies in civilian courts.

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that split guilty verdicts were prohibited in state criminal trials. Unanimous jury conviction has long been required at the federal level.

Pritchard asserted that Congress has consistently narrowed the gap between the military and civilian legal systems, bringing the former more in line with the latter.

But prosecutors said Pritchard was wrong in his argument that military and civilians are “situationd the same” and are therefore entitled to the same constitutional protections when it comes to jury verdicts.

Because of “significantly different responsibilities and privileges,” military and civilians are not alike “in all relevant respects,” they wrote in their appeal brief.

On January 13, Pritchard issued a similar decision in a case involving a soldier based in Vicenza, Italy, facing a court martial on allegations of sexual assault. This case has also been postponed.

The Army Criminal Appeals Court’s decision could have wider implications for the military justice system in the future. Military law experts said defense attorneys are likely to increasingly draw inspiration from the Dial case and raise similar questions.

The military is the last legal jurisdiction in the United States to allow split guilty verdicts.

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