Among the matters you should consider are: [appropriate selections may be made from the following list]
The Air Force has published their court-martial results for December 2016.
They reported 19 courts-martial service wide. 17 were reported as convictions and 2 as acquittals (10%). That is a number desperate for context.
This firm is interested in cases where a military jury/panel finds the accused not guilty. There were 4 pretrial agreements. (21%). That's positive news for the Air Force defense community. They are not taking deals as frequently as the other branches. This could be because most of their cases are drug cases.
Removing the deals, the acquittal rate was about 13%. That is unusually low for December. The sexual assault acquittal rate was 33%. Two convictions and one acquittal in sexual assault cases. That is a little bit low. We've seen acquittal rates in the other branches trending between 50-60%. The conviction sentences were 5 years and 60 days. There was a pretty wide range. The Air Force tends to prosecute a number of sexual touching through closing cases. Those cases tend to result in lower punishments - but still sex offender registration. They are very serious cases for that reason.
For whatever reason, the Air Force litigates drug trials at a pace that is out of touch with the rest of society. 10 of the 19 courts were drug related. (52%). There is no way to sugar coat it. The Air Force has lost their minds on drug cases when over half of their court-martial docket involves drugs. Most of those are cases that should probably be resolved with the administrative separation process.
The one general court-martial acquittal was in a sexual assault case involving a child at Joint Base Lackland/San Antonio. In a special court-martial, an Airman in Italy was acquitted of wrongful drug use.
The Air Force clearly needs a shift in litigation philosophy. That is evident from the Special Court-Martial results. There were 13 special court convictions. They were all for very minor offenses - mostly drugs. What is most surprising is that military judges imposed confinement every single time in drug cases. The moral of the story is never go judge alone in an Air Force drug case. Air Force panels did impose confinement in a few cases, but were generally lighter.
In Part I of this blog series, I posted some data from the Department of Justice on false allegations. In Part II, I'll discuss the literature on detecting lies. In Part III, we talk about nonverbal deception and facial expressions. In Part IV, I'll talk about false confessions.
I've spent the better part of the past decade studying deception. It is a critical area of study for the lawyer who makes their living cross-examining witnesses. There is extensive literature on both verbal and non-verbal deception. For a service member accused of crimes, you want a lawyer skillful at detecting deception.
One of the most influential books for me is "Detecting Lies and Deceit - the Psychology of Lying and the Implications for Professional Practice" by Aldert Vrij. The lessons from that book have served me well as a trial lawyer. Here are some of my take aways from that book.
In terms of detecting deception, you need to understand a couple of key principles:
1: Human beings are poor at detecting deception. This is a key point, because military members on juries tend to believe that they are good at detecting deception. They have a high level of confidence in their ability to detect deceit. They can be prone to making quick judgements.
The truth and data shows they are not good at detecting deceit. For that reason, we have to be very skillful at explaining deception and motives to lie. Studies of police officers shows that they detect lies about 57% of the time. Even professionals are poor at detecting deceit.
2: Human beings are good at lying. And they lie frequently. It is estimated that people lie once in every 10 social interactions. Those lies are detected about 18% of the time.
3: Lying is an intentional act.
4: There are three ways to detect a lie. (A) Observing verbal behavior (B) Analyzing speech content and (C) Measuring physiological responses (blood pressure, heart rate, etc).
5: People lie for several broad reasons:
A: To protect themselves from embarrassment or disapproval;
B: To gain an advantage;
C: To avoid punishment (This is an important one for cases involving children. They tend to tell lies to avoid punishment);
D: For another person's benefit; and,
E: For the sake of social relationships.
6: When cross-examining and interviewing witnesses, we're looking for outright lies, exaggerations, and subtle lies. We want to be able to point out these distinctions to panel members.
7: A lie is easier to tell when the speaker has an opportunity to prepare the lie. This is another key lesson for court-martial practice. We want to illustrate to the jury - every opportunity that we get - that the government's witnesses had an opportunity to prepare their lie.
8: We want to observe the liar's personality traits as best we can. Some liars have manipulative personality traits. They do not lie if they are likely to get caught. They can be dominating in their conversation patterns. They may seem relaxed and confident. Some people are sociable or good actors. They are talented at regulating their physical appearance when lying. Other people are adapters. They have a way of trying to make a positive impression on others.
9: We want to pay careful attention to nonverbal behaviors and micro-expressions. This is difficult to do in a trial setting. However, it is immensely valuable when we can point witness micro-expressions out to the jury. There are automatic links between emotions and lying. People sometimes contort their faces in particular ways that we will discuss in Part IV.
10: We want to be aware of the mental processes that the liar is experiencing during the deception. They may be feeling guilt, fear, or excitement.
11: When the lie is complex or the liar is taken by surprise, there may be slower or faster rate of speech, speech errors, changes in pitch, sentence repetition, delays in answering, and gaze aversion to avoid distraction. They may also be very self-conscious about their behaviors and over-regulate their posture and nonverbal presentation. We're looking for shifting movements.
12: Liars in the military are not always taken by surprise. The lie is prepared. In those cases, we may be looking for a faster speech pattern and fewer speech errors.
13: In a court-martial setting, one of the best approaches - in my opinion - is in analyzing the content of the speech. This is a skill that I have really practiced over time. Here are some of the aspects of speech that I am paying close attention to:
A. Negative speech indicating aversion towards people. Things like disparaging statements;
B. Plausible answers. The truth usually makes sense.
C. Irrelevant content. We pay careful attention to people who provide irrelevant information.
D. Overgeneralized statements. Words like always and never. Military members have a tendency to abuse generalized statements.
F. Unusually direct answers.
G. Response length.
These are not all indicators of deception. These are simply aspects of speech that we are paying careful attention to.
14: The details of the offense are critical to analyze. If the details of the offense seem implausible, we want to understand why. People who lie often do not have enough information available to present a coherent story. Sometimes they want to avoid details so they do not later forget them. Often a chronological account is easier to tell than an unstructured account.
15: When I read a victim or client statement from law enforcement, I have a validity checklist:
-Inappropriate language or knowledge
-Susceptibility to suggestion - discussed more in our upcoming blog on false confessions
-Overall thoroughness of the interview
-Motives to lie
-Context of the original report
-Pressure to report
-Inconsistencies with other witnesses and evidence
Often, it is helpful to analyze other aspects of speech. An older book titled "Mannerisms of Speech and Gestures in Everyday Life" by Dr. Sandor Feldman takes a more Freudian approach to analyzing speech. Some of this analysis is helpful to the trial lawyer. Dr. Feldman analyzed common expressions.
For instance, when a person says "by the way", Dr. Feldman theorizes that the speaker is attempting to make the information appear unimportant. Or they are trying to appear as though the remembered the information incidentally.
"Needless to say" can signify ambivalence. A sentence that begins with "honestly" suggests the person is not always honest.
There is rarely a good reason for a person to say "I don't care." It's a common answer when a victim is asked about their opinion on the outcome of a case.
The phrase "of course" can be a clue to possible deception. Imagine a woman who asks her husband if he still loves her. He says, "of course." A simple yes would be more appropriate. The "of course" tells the truth in a veiled way. He loves her, but not like before. When a court-martial witness uses the phrase "of course", I usually want to delve deeper into why they said that.
Words like "only" and "just" can sometimes mask guilt or responsibility.
Those are just a few examples.
The bottom line is that it takes years of experience interviewing hundreds - maybe thousands - of people to become skilled at cross-examination. It requires us to be present in the moment, to know the evidence better than the witness, and to have good judgement in knowing what to ask and what not to ask.
In the next section, we'll discuss non-verbal cues and micro-expressions.
I was recently at Fort Carson, Colorado. I came across a flyer from the Department of Justice titled "False Allegations of Adult Crimes Reference Guide." The flyer has prompted me to write about false allegations and deception. This Part I will provide the data from the Department of Justice. The data apparently came from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit and National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
The primary motivations and indicators section below provides a great resource for closing arguments in military court-martials.
The Department of Justice flyer on false allegations provided the following data on false allegations:
-Most likely white (93%)
-Majority are female (73%) male (27%)
-Average age was 30 and the most frequent age was 41
-At the time of the offense, 27% had documented mental illness (depression most common), all female
-At least 43% had a HS education/GED
Marital status by gender:
-Females, married (18%), never married (50%)
-Males, married (89%), never married 30% first marriage, 10% co-habitating/significant relationship
-Full-time employment (60%), part-time (3.3%), student (3%), unemployed (17%)
-No known substance abuse (63%), alcohol only (10%)
-Most common life problem prior to false allegation:
-Marital problems/conflict 63%
-Financial problems 33%
-Mental health issues 23%
-Unemployment/recent loss of job 13%
-27% have made at least one prior false allegation; rape/sexual assault (10%), stalking (10%), physical assault (7%), threats (7%)
-23% have been arrested at least once including charges such as theft/larceny, drugs/narcotics, trespassing, assault/battery
-In 73% of cases, the offender brought the case to the attention of law enforcement: sexual assault (73%), abduction (27%), threats (20%), stalking (17%), attempted murder (10%), extortion (7%), physical assault (7%), hate crime (3%), other (13%).
-Over half (53%) of the cases involved two types of offenses.
-In 73% of cases, there are indications of pre-planning/preparation
-Half of the offenses involved more than one location
-Evidence of physical trauma is reflected in 30% of the cases to include blunt force trauma, edged weapon, ligature strangulation, gunshot wound, burn (fire or chemical)
-Sexual trauma is rare; however, when observed there is trauma to the vaginal cavity, foreign object insertion or breast/nipple lacerations
-Evidence of staging in more than half the cases (60%) to include ransacking, vandalism, threat letters, burglary, use of explosive device, and car jacking
Primary Motivation for the Offenses
-Interpersonal violent allegations (e.g. sexual assault) were primarily motivated by attention/sympathy (50%), whereas interpersonal offenses (e.g. arson, theft) involved other motivations such as providing an alibi (17%), mental illness/depression (13%), profit (13%), and revenge (7%)
-Conduct 2 prong investigation
-Continue logical investigation to determine if there is, in fact, a legitimate offender
-Conduct discrete, parallel investigation to determine/identify the life problems of the false allegation offender
-The interview strategy is depending on the motivation of the offender. An investigator would approach an offender motivated by internal need for attention/sympathy far differently than one motivated by financial gain or revenue
-Emphasize the life problems of the offender
Possible Indicators of False Allegations
-Inconsistent statements by the offender
-Deception on polygraph
-Witness statements that conflict with the offender
-Lack of plausibility in the deception of the reported offense
-Lack of substantiating forensic, physical, and/or medical evidence"
For the first time on this blog, we take a look at Air Force courts-martial results for September 2016. The Air Force posts results at:
Results are organized by forum and result. The other branches organize the data by circuit. We analyze the data collectively.
The Air Force reported 32 General and Special Courts in September. There were 5 acquittals. (15%). That number is desperate for some context.
The Air Force does not report whether a case was resolved through a guilty plea. It's critical information for policy makers to know the cost and extent of pleas in the military.
There were only 8 jury trials.
Air Force numbers are probably skewed relative to the other services. 16 cases were drug related. (50%). That's just ridiculous. Drug cases in other branches that would likely result in administrative separations are resulting in criminal convictions in the Air Force.
The numbers are really tough to analyze because of the quality of data. But, acquittals in 5 out of 8 jury trials is not bad. (62%).