Hutchins War Crimes Conviction Overturned; Implications for Manning

The conviction of Marine Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III for war crimes in 2006 has been overturned.

The conviction of Marine Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III for war crimes in 2006 has been overturned.

AP (“Murder conviction against US Marine overturned“):

The military’s highest court overturned a murder conviction against a Camp Pendleton Marine in one of the most significant cases against American troops from the Iraq war.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces threw out the conviction of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III of Plymouth, Mass., who has served about half of his 11-year sentence. According to the ruling posted on the court’s website Wednesday, the judges agreed with Hutchins, who claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for seven days during his 2006 interrogation in Iraq.

[…]

The Navy can appeal to the Supreme Court or send the case to the convening authority, who can either order a retrial or let the ruling stand. Navy officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

In their ruling Wednesday, the court’s judges said the Naval Criminal Investigative Services violated Hutchins’ Fifth Amendment rights when it interrogated him in May 2006 about the incident and then put him in a trailer in Fallujah with no access to a lawyer or phones. After seven days, the same Navy investigator returned and asked Hutchins for permission to search his belongings. Hutchins said he asked to tell his side of the story and was told he could do so the next day, when he waived his right to counsel and provided a sworn statement about the crimes.

The judges ruled much of the case rested on that confession, which they determined was illegally obtained after Hutchins was held under guard for seven days. ”Accordingly, under the circumstances of this case, it was error for the military judge to admit the statement made by Hutchins on May 19, 2006,” the judges concluded in their ruling.

The case was among the most serious Iraqi war crimes prosecuted by the government. In another major case that took six years, the lone Marine convicted in the killings of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a raid in Haditha seven years ago reached a deal to escape jail time.

Another case involved the November 2004 death of an unarmed Iraqi detainee in Fallujah. One Marine was spared prison time after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty, and another was acquitted. Their former squad leader was acquitted in federal court.

Former Navy officer David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Wednesday’s ruling demonstrates the military’s poor prosecution record. ”For these very serious allegations of conduct that one would think of as war crimes, the military justice system has not performed very well in the past couple decades,” Glazier said. ”Here this guy’s conviction is overturned on the basis that he was mistreated by the government during his initial apprehension, and yet he’s already served five years in prison,” he added. “If the conviction was unjust in the first place, it’s kind of appalling it’s taken the military justice system five years to resolve it.”

 

If this comparatively benign violation of due process is sufficient to overturn the conviction of a confessed murderer, I don’t know how the shockingly egregious treatment to which Army PFC Bradley Manning was subjected to during his long pre-trail confinement wouldn’t have the same effect. Certainly, any statements by Manning to authorities during that period would have to be ruled inadmissible.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    Like I usually do, I skip the article and look at James’ thoughts: “If this comparatively benign violation of due process is sufficient to overturn the conviction of a confessed murderer”— I pretty much stopped reading there. Where’s the link to Calvin and Hobbes, again?

  2. Butch Bracknell says:

    Manning has already received his remedy for the illegal pretrial punishment, and there is no showing so far of a connection between that pretrial confinement and Manning’s right to counsel. Considering Hutchins to stand for any legal precedent in Manning probably is folly.

  3. legion says:

    @John Peabody: And that’s why you will remain at the level of Calvin & Hobbes for the rest of your sad life. Here’s a key sentence (that’s a grouping of words that conveys a related idea or concept in a concise package, fyi):

    The judges ruled much of the case rested on that confession, which they determined was illegally obtained after Hutchins was held under guard for seven days.

    If you don’t like reading blog posts, or having to think, what are you doing here in the first place?

  4. John Peabody says:

    legion: Ah, thank you. I gratefully accept your appropriate jab.

  5. Dave D says:

    If this comparatively benign violation of due process is sufficient to overturn the conviction of a confessed murderer, I don’t know how the shockingly egregious treatment to which Army PFC Bradley Manning was subjected to during his long pre-trail confinement wouldn’t have the same effect.

    Unlikely since this guy only unlawfully kidnapped and executed an Iraqi, while Manning is a traitor who gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Clearly Manning’s crimes are much worse which is why his possible prison sentence will be not even within a century of the 11 years this man was sentenced to. snark

  6. Barry says:

    “If this comparatively benign violation of due process is sufficient to overturn the conviction of a confessed murderer, I don’t know how the shockingly egregious treatment to which Army PFC Bradley Manning was subjected to during his long pre-trail confinement wouldn’t have the same effect. Certainly, any statements by Manning to authorities during that period would have to be ruled inadmissible.”

    Seconding Butch, here – this would just mean that any confession Manning made was inadmissible. However, they have other evidence.

    In addition, Manning is an Enemy of the State, not a mere mass murderer (whose mass murder was done in service to the State). He’ll be treated much harsher, by judges as well as prosecutors.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Dave D:

    while Manning is a traitor who gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

    While I agree with the sentiment, Manning hasn’t been charged (and never will be charged) with treason.

    The severity of Manning’s sentence will accrue from the multitudinous nature of the charges.

    Also, to James, don’t be surprised if Navy seeks certiorari. They aren’t likely IMO to allow this precedent to stand.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Butch Bracknell: What remedy did Manning receive? I never saw reporting on that.

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    One could argue that the judge’s allowance of pleading by exception & substitution constituted a remedy (although I wouldn’t defend such an argument), but the most likely remedy is one that he hasn’t received (yet): credit for time already served applied against his sentence.

    Now, given the magnitude of that probable sentence, time served is essentially meaningless from a practical perspective, but it’ll qualify as a remedy nonetheless.

  10. Just Me says:

    Was Manning denied counsel for 7 days? Seems like that’s the problem here (and IMO denial of counsel for 7 days then getting the confession is a problem). Also is the conviction thrown out with prejudice or can the Navy prosecute again with evidence other than the confession?

    I can’t imagine the Navy letting the guy walk if they can appeal or still get the conviction.

  11. Barry says:

    BTW, IIRC in the Haditha massacre, the Marines in question got away with having a firefight against guerillas, and having only the bodies of women, children and elderly men to turn in, because that didn’t stand out.

  12. Barry says:

    @Just Me: “I can’t imagine the Navy letting the guy walk if they can appeal or still get the conviction. ”

    I can; a lot of the brass won’t care, and they won’t mind the issue quietly going away.

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just Me:

    I can’t imagine the Navy letting the guy walk if they can appeal or still get the conviction.

    A few factors combine to lead me towards the belief that Navy will fight this one out:

    1) If, and we can assume that this might be the case, the Marine signed an M5810.1D advisory statement, then all bets are off. If they dropped that ball and questioned him without one or some other form of advisory, then it becomes problematic and the confession could remain excluded. Other evidence, including the statements of others, would remain admissible.

    2) The court is likely to take into account the difficulty of actually getting a JAG into a war zone.

  14. legion says:

    @John Peabody: Sorry for the unnecessary snark; that was before I had my coffee this morning 🙂