On 30 August 2016, Mr. Pristera obtained a full reversal of all charges from the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court determined that the military judge improperly instructed the panel with regards to consideration of evidence of one charged offense as proof of a propensity to commit the other charged offense.
Appellant was charged with two specifications of sexual assault, against two alleged victims. The alleged assaults occurred almost a year apart. After the second alleged assault, the alleged victim made a restricted report to the unit sexual assault advocate. Upon hearing the allegations from the alleged victim of the second offense, the sexual assault advocate herself also claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the same person. Both women filed unrestricted reports a month later. Appellant was ultimately convicted of both offenses.
At the trial, the military judge instructed the panel on Military Rule of Evidence 413. That rule, prior to the landmark decision in U.S. v. Hills, allowed for propensity evidence to be considered in similar sexual assault cases. Basically, that means that the government can use evidence of one charged offense to suggest that the accused had a predisposition to commit the other offense. The result is a complicated instruction requiring the panel to distinguish between guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and guilt by a preponderance of the evidence.
While this case was pending appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces announced its decision in U.S. v. Hills. In that case, the court held that MRE 413 cannot be applied to a charged sexual offense on the same charge sheet. This landmark decision overturned years of practice in the military justice system.
Based on that decision, Mr. Pristera filed a supplemental brief and assignment of error citing the Hills decision. The Court agreed with Mr. Pristera and overturned the conviction on the basis of an improper instruction and use of MER 413 evidence.