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Overview of guilty pleas in a military court-martial

Overview and discussion of plea, acceptance of plea:

Effect of Pleas

Plea of not guilty places burden upon government to prove elements of the charges offense(s). A guilty plea relieves government of burden to prove elements of offense(s). By pleading(unconditionally) the accused waives certain things:

Factual issues of guilt.

(a) Objections: under RCM 910(j), a plea of guilty that results in a finding of guilty waives any objection, whether or not previously raised, insofar as the objection relates to the factual issue of guilt.

Defects not raised at trial that are neither jurisdictional nor tantamount to a denial of due process.

Motion to suppress confession.

M.R.E. 304(d)(5) See United States v. Hinojosa , 33 M.J. 353 (C.M.A. 1991) (guilty plea waived right to contest motion denying suppression of confession).

Speedy Trial.

See United States v. Tippit , 65 M.J. 69 (C.A.A.F. 2007). Speedy trial rights provided under the 6th Amendment and RCM 707 are waived. RCM 707(e). Article 10 challenges not waived at trial are waived. Properly litigated Article 10 challenges are not waived.

Trial counsel disqualification.

See United States v. Bradley , 68 M.J. 279 (C.A.A.F. 2010)

No Waiver.

The following issues are not waived by an unconditional guilty plea:

Unlawful command influence.

United States v. Johnston , 39 M.J. 242 (C.M.A. 1994).


United States v. Coffey , 38 M.J. 290 (C.M.A. 1993)

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Ineffective assistance of counsel.

Properly litigated Article 10 motion.

United States v. Mizgala , 61 M.J. 122 (C.A.A.F. 2005). United States. V. Mizgala , 61 M.J. 122 (C.A.A.F. 2005) (“A fundamental, substantial, personal right… should not be diminished by applying ordinary rules of waiver and forfeiture associated with guilty pleas.”)

Multiplicious charging.

An unconditional guilty plea, ordinarily, waives multiplicity issues, unless those issues constitute plain error. United States v. Rhine , 67 M.J. 646 (A.F.Ct.Crim.App. 2009) (citing United States v. Powell , 49 M.J. 460, 464-65 (C.A.A.F. 1998).

Statute of limitations.

Accused can, though, on the record, voluntarily and expressly waive the statute of limitations as a bar to trial. United States v. Province , 42 M.J. 821 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. 1996).

Selective prosecution

Not waived in situations in which facts necessary to make the claim were not fully developed at the time of plea. United States v. Henry , 42 M.J. 231 (C.A.A.F. 1995).

Five Recognized Pleas RCM 910(a)(1)

“Your honor, the accused, SGT Archie, pleads, to all Charges and Specifications, Not Guilty.” : Not recognized in RCM 910(a)(1); treated as irregular plea under RCM 910(b), which equates to a plea of not guilty. “The accused , SGT Archie, pleads as follows: To the Specification: Not Guilty only by reason of lack of mental responsibility.”

“Your honor, the accused, SGT Archie, pleads as follows: To the Specification and to The Charge: Guilty.” (example of AWOL terminated by apprehension) “Your honor, the accused, SGT Archie, pleads as follows: To the Specification: Guilty, except the words, ‘he was apprehended.’ To the excepted words: Not Guilty. To the Charge: Guilty.”

Pleading to wrongful appropriate rather than larceny, using Exceptions and Substitutions) “Your honor, the accused, SGT Archie, pleads as follows: To the Specification: Guilty, except the word ‘steal,’ substituting therefor the words ‘wrongfully appropriate.’ To the excepted word: Not Guilty; to the substituted words: Guilty. To the Charge: Guilty.”

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Pleading to wrongful appropriation asa lesser included offense of larceny) “Your honor the accused, SGT Snuffy, pleads as follows: To the Specification: Not Guilty, but Guilty to the lesser included offense of wrongful appropriation.”

Remember, that in order to plead to an LIO, the specification to which the accused is pleading guilty must actually be an LIO- just because the Manual says it is an LIO does not make it so- you must conduct an elements test.

How to Enter Pleas

  • Step 1: Plead to the Specification;
  • Step 2: Plead to the excepted words or figures (if applicable);
  • Step 3: Plead to the substituted words or figures (if applicable); and
  • Step 4: Plead to the Charge
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