Articles Posted in Military Law

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After their three-year-old adopted son died, U.S. Army Major John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, were convicted of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. The New Jersey law offenses were “assimilated” into federal law under the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 13(a), which “borrows” state laws to fill gaps in federal law for crimes committed on federal enclaves. The Jacksons’ crimes occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (Picatinny Arsenal Installation). Using the offense guidelines for assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.3, and aggravated assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.2, the Probation Office calculated both defendants’ Guidelines range as 210-262 months. The government calculated a range of 292-365 months. The court declined to calculate the applicable sentencing ranges under the U.S.S.G., reasoning that there was no “sufficiently analogous” offense guideline, sentenced Carolyn to 24 months of imprisonment plus supervised release, and sentenced John to three years of probation plus community service and a fine. The Third Circuit vacated the sentences, adopting an “elements-based” approach, but concluding that the assault guideline is “sufficiently analogous” to the Jacksons’ offenses. The district court failed to make the requisite findings with respect to the Guidelines calculation and the statutory sentencing factors. While the court could consider what would happen if the Jacksons had been prosecuted in state court, it focused on state sentencing practices to the exclusion of federal sentencing principles. The sentences were substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Chavez-Alvarez, a citizen of Mexico, became a lawful permanent resident in 1989, then served in the U.S. Army. In 2000, Chavez-Alvarez penetrated the vagina of an intoxicated platoon member with his fingers and performed oral sex without consent. He initially denied the allegations, but later admitted the assault and was convicted under the Code of Military Justice: 10 U.S.C. 907, 925, and 934 for making false official statements; sodomy; and adultery and indecent assault. He was discharged and confined for 18 months. Chavez-Alvarez was charged as removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227, having been convicted of an aggravated felony with a term of imprisonment of at least one year and of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme. An IJ determined he was ineligible for a waiver of inadmissibility. Following a remand, the BIA concluded that Chavez-Alvarez was removable under the moral-turpitude provision, rejecting his argument that he was only convicted of sodomy, a constitutionally protected activity under Supreme Court precedent. The BIA disagreed, reasoning that Chavez-Alvarez’s crime was subject to a sentence enhancement, having been committed forcibly, which was the “functional equivalent” of a conviction for forcible sodomy, a crime involving moral turpitude, and that his two false-statements convictions were separate crimes of moral turpitude. The Third Circuit reversed, rejecting the BIA’s reasoning that “for immigration purposes a sentence enhancement can serve as the functional equivalent of an ‘element’ of an offense.” View "Chavez-Alvarez v. Attorney General , United States" on Justia Law

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Carroll was hired by the Delaware River Port Authority in 1989 as a police officer. From 1989-2009, he served six years as a Navy corpsman and 10 years in the Pennsylvania National Guard. When not on active military duty, Carroll maintained his Port Authority employment, achieving the rank of corporal in 2004. Carroll was deployed to Iraq in 2009, where he sustained injuries leading to cervical spondylosis, degenerative disk disease, bilateral torn rotator cuffs, brain injury, and high-frequency hearing loss. Carroll was in rehabilitation until his 2013 honorable discharge. Carroll has not worked for the Port Authority since his deployment. In 2010 and 2012, while on active duty but in rehabilitation, Carroll unsuccessfully applied for a promotion. Carroll sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301, alleging discrimination based on military service. After discovery, the court certified an interlocutory appeal on the question of whether Carroll must plead and prove that he was objectively qualified for promotion to sergeant in order to sustain his discrimination suit. The Third Circuit stated that plaintiffs need not plead or prove that they are objectively qualified in order to meet their initial burden under USERRA; instead, employers may raise a plaintiff’s lack of qualifications as a nondiscriminatory justification for declining to promote the plaintiff, notwithstanding military service. View "Carroll v. Delaware River Port Authority" on Justia Law

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Gourzong, a native of Jamaica, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1983. In 1993, having joined the U.S. military, he was convicted by a special court-martial at Camp Pendelton of willfully disobeying a lawful order, 10 U.S.C. 890(2), and “commit[ing] an act of sexual intercourse with a female not his wife who has not attained the age of sixteen years,” 10 U.S.C. 920. Gourzong was represented by counsel and pleaded guilty. He received a sentence of six months confinement, loss of pay, and bad-conduct discharge. The convening authority suspended part of the confinement and withheld executing the bad-conduct discharge until after appellate review procedures, 10 U.S.C. 871(c). An IJ found Gourzong removable, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), having been convicted of an aggravated felony. The BIA affirmed, rejecting his argument that convictions by special courts-martial categorically fall outside the definition in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(48)(A): “‘conviction’ means, with respect to an alien, a formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court.” Although it is possible that a special court-martial can convene without a legally trained judge presiding, their convictions generally qualify as convictions under the Act. The Third Circuit agreed and, therefore, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Gourzong’s appeal. View "Gourzong v. Att'y Gen. of the United States" on Justia Law

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Davis and his wife purchased a Philadelphia rental property in 1997 1997. A longtime member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Davis was called to active duty in 2004. A few months later, the Davises transferred the property to Global LLC, owned and managed by Davis, to “insulate themselves from liability” because “his wife was unable to manage the property.” In 2009, Davis and Global asked the Philadelphia Department of Revenue to reduce Global’s property tax debt, citing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. 3901, which limits interest imposed on a servicemember’s delinquent property taxes during active duty to a rate of six percent and forbids additional penalties. The Department denied this request, stating that the SCRA does not apply to a business owned by a servicemember and that Davis should file an abatement petition with the Philadelphia Tax Review Board. The Review Board denied that petition. Two years later the city initiated foreclosure proceedings; the state court entered judgment in the city’s favor. Davis and Global filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. SCRA extends only to servicemembers; a corporation is not a “servicemember” under the statute. View "Davis v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Alvarez, a two-year-old citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. without admission or parole. In 1989 he became a lawful permanent resident. Alvarez served in the U.S. Army, 1991-2004. Alvarez has only departed the United States as a member of the Army. In 2000 Alvarez had sexual contact with a female platoon member who was so intoxicated that she was unable to consent. He provided a signed denial to the Army Criminal Investigation Division. He eventually pleaded guilty to violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: 10 U.S.C. 907, for making false official statements; 10 U.S.C. 925, sodomy; and, 10 U.S.C. 934, for two specifications of violating the general article. The judge sentenced Alvarez to a bad conduct discharge, to be reduced to the grade of E-1, and to be confined for 18 months. The sentence did not allocate the confinement to the convictions. In 2012, DHS agents arrested Alvarez. An IJ found him removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) and 1101(a)(43)(F), as an alien who has been convicted of an aggravated felony. The BIA affirmed. The Third Circuit remanded. The BIA committed legal error in concluding that Alvarez’s sodomy conviction was a crime “for which the term of imprisonment [was] at least one year,” 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(F). View "Chavez-Alvarez v. Att'y Gen., United States" on Justia Law

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During the Iraq War, the U.S. military established the Radwaniyah Palace Complex as a base of operations. Staff Sergeant Maseth was stationed there and assigned to live in a barracks building that predated the war and was known to have significant electrical problems. In 2008, Staff Sergeant Maseth died by electrocution while taking a shower in the barracks. The shower was electrified by an ungrounded, unbonded water pump. Maseth’s estate and his parents sued KBR, a military contractor hired to perform maintenance services at the barracks. The district court dismissed, holding that the case was nonjusticiable and, alternatively, that the claims were preempted by the federal policy embodied in the Federal Tort Claims Act’s combatant activities exception, 28 U.S.C. 2680(j). The Third Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the claims are not preempted by the combatant activities exception and reasoning that the political question issue requires a preliminary determination of which state’s law controls. View "Harris v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Since 1976, NAI has operated a flea market on 65.4 acres purchased from the Borough of Palmyra. In 2002, Palmyra began considering redevelopment, including NAI’s parcel. A site inspection uncovered the possible presence of unexploded munitions from a weapons-testing facility used by the Army during World War II. The parties entered into an access agreement, pursuant to which NAI could operate the Market on the weekends, while contractors conducted inspections and remedial work during the week. In 2008, however, an unexploded artillery shell was discovered flush with the surface of the Market’s parking lot. Because vendors often drove stakes into the ground to secure tents, this raised concerns of accidental detonation. After NAI refused to comply voluntarily, the police chief issued an emergency order, restricting access to the property. Hundreds of munitions were found on the property, both explosive and inert. NAI filed suit, claiming that the order was arbitrary under New Jersey law; violated procedural due process; and constituted a “taking” without just compensation. The Market was closed for five months before the parties entered a consent order that allowed the Market to reopen on weekends with barriers and security guards to prohibit public access to hazardous areas. The district court entered summary judgment for the borough and denied NAI attorney’s fees for its claimed victory with respect to the consent order. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. Borough of Palmyra" on Justia Law

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Two U.S. Army Reserve officers, deployed to Iraq in 2003 to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, were convicted of conspiracy under 18 U.S.C.371, for participating in a bid-rigging scheme that involved directing millions of dollars in contracts to companies owned by an American businessman. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence to establish participation in the conspiracy; to denial of a motion to suppress; and to denial of immunity for a co-conspirator. View "United States v. Whiteford" on Justia Law