Azimuth Check, October 4, 2010

Liquid filled lensatic compass
Ah, the trusty old lensatic compass. I swore by one of these for years, and I still do. It's useful, literally and figuratively. Image via Wikipedia

What is an azimuth check?

When someone is navigating unknown territory using a compass, they often will check the it to make sure that they are going in the correct direction (the correct azimuth). That is an azimuth check, and it is something I did frequently (and literally) as an Infantryman while on patrol. Since leaving that life, I find myself continuing to do so on a figurative level as I navigate various paths in life.

Is it a bit cheesy? Perhaps. Is it appropriate for a weekly potpourri post? Sure.

One Video, 2 Issues

I found this video completely by accident while perusing news about the Ft. Lewis soldiers accused of murder while in Afghanistan. When I began watching it, the first thing that caught my eye was the extremely well-rehearsed and staged interrogation. For years, we CDLs have lamented the fact that interrogations were not videotaped despite the fact that technology made it possible and extremely cheap.


First Issue:  The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) listened to our concerns and responded with an occasional videotaped question and answer session. I use the phrase “question and answer session” because it is not an interrogation. The interrogation occurred in the hours (perhaps days) prior to introducing the camcorder. What you see is a well-rehearsed summation of all the highlights they want published. How do I know? It happened to one of my clients. Luckily, the prosecutor saw through the charade, too.

In the video below, it looks nearly identical to my client’s videotaped question and answer session. Everything is neat, clean, well-groomed, and ready for prime time. The accused soldier is not hunched over a table straining to remember hazy facts and distant conversations. Nope, he’s right on the money, from a certain perspective.

So, bravo. This set of videos get the first annual Mayer Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Second Issue:  Michael Waddington, a very well-established military CDL, represents one of the young men accused of murder and other related crimes. Mike has a good reputation for working hard for his clients and keeping their priorities at the fore of his representation. While I have never personally met him, a good friend of mine shared his experiences while assisting on one of Mr. Waddington’s cases. I trust my friend enough to believe his positive impression of Mike as a CDL.

For this reason, the video below gets excruciatingly painful at the 2 minute, 20 second mark. In a planned CNN interview, he responds to a very direct question with awkward silence followed by a very evasive and unsure answer. For any of us who have held a client’s life, livelihood, and good name in our hands, it is a painful episode to endure. My heart certainly went out to both him and his client.

Once again, I am caused to question any decision to go public with aspects of a pending case. To this point, I have been one of those guys who “didn’t return our phonecalls.” Usually, any mitigation I have in a particular case can be presented most effectively at the trial itself, and it would only be harmed if I choreographed my moves on national/regional/local media outlets.

Later in the video, Mike does a good job of communicating much of his client’s mitigation for the acts and actions of his military unit, and I can see the direction of the defense’s theory. I can certainly understand how a sway in public opinion for his client may benefit his chances of lessening the potential pain of the court-martial.

Mike has more experience than I do, and he is no stranger to high-profile cases. I hope for his client’s sake that this was all part of the plan. After all, I am still trying to decipher the purpose of John Galligan’s blog on his representation of Major Hasan. Luckily, the posts have declined over time.

I am certainly open to opinions on the use of media in defending a client.

Am I open to it? Yes, but only if I know it will help my client.

We Accuse, You Lose

This, unfortunately, is a recurring theme in many cases. I first heard this phrase coined by my good friend Dave Koon who used it in a particularly frustrating case.

It has come to my attention that Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri now plans to take the prosecution of serious offense allegations (particularly sexual assault allegations) to the next level. Now, every allegation will be accompanied by charges and, at a minimum, an Article 32 Investigation (grand jury equivalent). Regardless of the strength of the allegations or support (or lack thereof) by the local commanders, these soldiers must face prosecution.

There are several several things that come to mind here. First, we must acknowledge that facing charges and prosecution is a life-changing event for most people. It is stressful and creates the persistent stigma of facing charges. It is a meat grinder, even if only for a short time.

Second, the Army is desperate to continue its spin control of sexual assaults in the military.  A couple of years ago, the Army began an in-depth study into sexual assaults in the military. The result? They decided to increase the number of prosecutors (by adding Special Victim Prosecutors to the ranks) and allowing certain CID Special Agents to specialize in the handling of sexual assault allegations. If there was an award to be given to the jurisdiction toughest on sexual assaults, the Army would covet it.

Third, a lot of sexual assault allegations are not legitimate. I’ve always said that someone who is truly the victim of a sexual assault is actually victimized by two entities–1. the individual who directly assaulted them and 2. the multitude of false claims that cause excessive scrutiny of his/her version of events. It is not unusual for a casual and consensual sexual encounter to morph into an allegation of sexual assault once a spouse/serious partner/general public discovers the indiscretion.

None of that matters now. Previously, the facts would be scrutinized by lawyers and commanders mindful of the long toll of the court-martial process. They viewed it dispassionately with an eye on fairness and the elements of the crime. Now, the case moves forward, scrutiny be damned.

Hear that sound? That’s the sound of the Army kick-starting the meat grinder. There’s sausage to be made.

Non-Law Related Topic of the Week

When I was growing up, my father instilled in me that men should always have a knife and a handkerchief in their pockets at all times. As a child of the great depression growing-up on a farm, those were two things that he believed to be invaluable. I’ve followed his advice and example, and you can always find me with a small pocketknife and hanky (folded into a 2×2 square).

That is, except when I am flying. At that point, the TSA makes me to go against fatherly advice and put the knife in my checked bag. Of course, with it go my economy-sized shaving cream, toenail clippers, and anything else that causes the TSA to get a bee in their bonnet.

It makes me wonder when they will outlaw my hanky. A hanky, in the hands of the wrong person, can be a deadly and disastrous weapon. We’ve all seen movies where somebody is incapacitated because of a hanky soaked in ether. Moreover, it can be used as an improvised strangulation device. Of course, thinking that way is silly, paranoid, irrational, and downright stupid.

I expect the new anti-hanky rule within a few weeks.

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One thought on “Azimuth Check, October 4, 2010

  1. Eric,
    I just learned of the Afghanistan murder scandal over the weekend. If you have any insights as to these cases or the defenses of the Soldiers under Gibbs, I’d love to see them.

    “There are several several things that come to mind here. First, we must acknowledge that facing charges and prosecution is a life-changing event for most people. It is stressful and creates the persistent stigma of facing charges. It is a meat grinder, even if only for a short time.”
    It goes farther than that, and the consequences can be career-ending even if charges are never filed.

    “Third, a lot of sexual assault allegations are not legitimate. I’ve always said that someone who is truly the victim of a sexual assault is actually victimized by two entities–1. the individual who directly assaulted them and 2. the multitude of false claims that cause excessive scrutiny of his/her version of events. It is not unusual for a casual and consensual sexual encounter to morph into an allegation of sexual assault once a spouse/serious partner/general public discovers the indiscretion.”

    Amen.

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