Air Force Military Training Instructor: Sexual Assault Conviction at Lackland AFB Set Aside by Appellate Court - Us v. Hills and Us v. Silva

Attorney Daniel Conway is a partner in the firm. He has published a Handbook of Military Crimes and Offenses. He has also been featured by nearly every major national news organization. Mr. Conway lives in San Antonio.
In 2015, an Air Force Military Training Instructor was convicted of sexually assaulting a trainee. Dozens of Airmen were involved in the investigation and court-martial. Full disclosure, this firm has a San Antonio office and had involvement in the case (not US v. Silva).

The case - US v. MSgt Silva - made national news. He received a heavy 20-year sentence. Now the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals has set aside the convictions. The appellate court action is largely based on United States v. Hills. Our firm has had several successful appeals based on Hills. Mr. Conway has already successfully retried a court-martial following an appellate reversal.

Here is the basic idea. The Hills case applies in situations where the accused is charged with sexually assaulting more than one victim. There used to be a jury instruction that informed the panel that evidence of one victim can be relevant to show the accused's propensity to assault the other victim. (For more information see our page on Military Rule of Evidence 413). This is referred to as propensity evidence.

Military Rule of Evidence 413 permits propensity evidence when it involves uncharged misconduct. In Hills, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that you cannot use evidence of one charged offense to prove another charged offense. The government has to prove all of the elements of each charged offense. It's informally referred to as "boot-strapping" the evidence.

The appellate courts are concerned that an improper jury instruction could lead the jury to apply the wrong standard of proof. The Hills case has had profound implications for sexual assault convictions that occurred before June 2016 - or immediately after. This firm has successfully handled several Hills related appeals similar to the Silva case.

Across services, there have been multiple sexual assault convictions set aside. Many of the cases are remanded for a new trial. Sometimes, the alleged victims choose not to participate in the retrial. Bottom line, the outcomes in the retrials is often more favorable than the first time around. Feel free to contact this firm if you think you have a case involving US v. Hills.
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