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The Court-martial Of Cadet Webster Smith.

Posted by USALJ-ret. on Jan 13, 2011 9:53:29 AM

The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America. Every once in a while a case comes along that puts our humanity as a people, and as Americans, on trial. Everything that we profess to stand for as Americans was on trial. Our sense of Justice in America and particularly in the U. S. Military was on trial. This was no ordinary trial. Our humanity was on trial. Our system of justice was on trial. This case dissolved the deceptive façade and exposed certain moral deficiencies in our system of justice.

 

On Dec. 4, 2005 an officer on duty at the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) received an allegations of sexual misconduct from a cadet, setting off an inquiry by the Coast Guard Investigative Services (CGIS), based in Washington, D.C..

The commandant of cadets, Captain Douglas Wisniewski, took immediate action to initiate the investigation into these allegations.

?Sexual misconduct? at the USCGA is defined as ?acts that disgrace or bring discredit on the Coast Guard or Coast Guard Academy and are sexual in nature?,  including lewd or lascivious acts, indecent exposure or homosexual conduct.

 

But the definition also includes consensual acts that are prohibited on academy grounds, such as holding hands, kissing in public or having sex.

 

Cadet First Class Webster Smith was charged with sexually assaulting six female cadets in Chase Hall, the cadet living quarters, and in other locations.

 

An Article 32 Investigation was convened on March 21, 2006 to determine whether there was probable cause to convene a court-martial to prosecute the charges. The Investigating Officer received the testimony of seven female cadets who accused Cadet Smith of assaulting them between May and November 2005.

The USCGA Superintendent, Admiral James Van Sice, decided to refer the charges against Cadet Smith to a General Court-martial. In his opening statement to the Jury Panel on June 26, 2006 the prosecutor described Cadet Smith as a manipulative senior who preyed on lonely women.

 

Cadet  Smith of Houston, Texas pleaded not guilty in the first court-martial of a cadet in Coast Guard Academy history. The charges ranged from rape, sodomy, and extortion to assault of the female cadets.

 

Cadet Smith was tried before a jury panel of Coast Guard officers including four white men, one white woman, three Black men and a man of Asian descent. The senior member was a captain with command experience. There were no cadets on the panel. Since there were no cadets on the jury panel, it can truly be asked whether he was afforded a jury of his peers. Were the best qualified members appointed to the panel, as the Manual For Courts-martial (MCM) and UCMJ mandate?

 

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), (10 USC sec.801 et seq.) supplemented by the Manual For Courts-martial (MCM) provides guidance for a commander empowered to convene a court-martial. The UCMJ and the MCM both contain the following sentence:

  "When convening a court-martial the convening authority shall detail as members thereof, such members of the armed forces as, in his opinion, are best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament. (UCMJ Art. 25(d)(2).

 

     I have made this or a similar argument many times while defending service members in courts-martial. None of the members of Webster Smith's jury panel had been a cadet at the USCGA while female cadets were living in Chase Hall. Only one had ever attended the USCGA; none had socialized with female cadet; none had attended cadet athletic parties; none had read the cadet regulations; none had counseled a cadet concerning sexual assault; none had first-hand experience with the four class system; none had indoctrinated female cadets; and none had ever had a girl friend who was the first female brigade commander, who got pregnant, had an abortion, and continued to date the putative father for another six months before she was counseled by Coast Guard lawyers that she might have been raped at some point during her 18 month relationship with the accused in this court-martial.

 

    If, at least, one cadet had been on that jury, he could have explained to the members during deliberations many of the things that they were completely ignorant of. I contend that the jury did not have a clue as to what living conditions were like in Chase Hall, nor did they know what the social environment was like between Black male upper-class cadets and white female cadets in any of the four classes.

 

   That being the case, the jury was not composed of the best qualified people available in accordance with the UCMJ and Art 25(d)(2).

 

On June 28, 2006 after about eight hours of deliberation, the panel found Cadet Webster Smith guilty of indecent assault, extortion in exchange for sexual favors and sodomy, which in military parlance includes oral sex. All those charges involved one of the four accusers.

 

Cadet Smith was sentenced to be separated form the service and to spend six months in jail at a Navy brig.

 

This was not a rape case. Many senior Coast Guard officers tried to portray it as such. Webster Smith was not and is not a rapist. The court-martial, with all of its faults, proved that this was not a rape case.

 

Neither was Webster Smith a sexual predator as he was called. He simply refused to stay on his side of the color-line. Someone felt that a message had to be sent; a lesson had to be taught. Just as East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet; the Coast Guard Academy was not going to become a breeding ground for miscegenation.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the conviction  of Webster Smith, the only Coast Guard Academy cadet ever  court-martialed.

 

Smith had sought a Supreme Court review based largely on the argument  that he had not been able to question the credibility of one of his  accusers, known only as Cadet SR.

 

Smith’s attorneys wanted a chance to question the female cadet  because, according to a legal brief, she had lied about the consensual  nature of a previous sexual encounter with an enlisted man, contrary to  Coast Guard rules and possibly jeopardizing her military career. The  female cadet claimed Smith used knowledge of her previous dalliance to  extort sexual favors from her.

 

“The defense maintained that the two cadets’ sexual encounter was  consensual and that SR was fabricating her accusations because the  encounter occurred in Chase Hall, the Academy dormitory, where sexual  activity is prohibited by cadet regulations,” according to a brief in  the case.

 

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces' (CAAF) minority opinion, including Chief Judge C.J. Effron, agreed that  Smith’s attorneys should have been allowed to question the female cadet.  In a dissenting opinion, they said Smith’s “allegation that SR had  previously lied about a sexual encounter” was relevant to the case.

 

When the Supreme Court rejected Smith’s petition seeking a  hearing on the case, it effectively made the CAAF’s  decision the final decision in the case.

1,422 Views Tags: smith, sexual, military, article, coast, james, academy, justice, webster, van, guard, cadet, court-martial, assault, 32, investigation, admiral, sice.


Jan 13, 2011 10:05 AM Seal    says:

In my recollection as the Universal Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does not provide for a 'jury of his peers' so the statement in your paragraph regarding the makeup of the jury of serving officers is spurious.

 

Seal

Jan 14, 2011 3:21 PM USALJ-ret.    says:

Dear Seal,

      First, the bad news. There is no UNIVERSAL Code of Military Justice. It is a UNIFORM Code of Military Justice.

      Now, the good news. I see and I understand what you are trying to say.

      The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), (10 USC sec.801 et seq.) supplemented by the Manual For Courts-martial (MCM) provides guidance for a commander empowered to convene a court-martial. The UCMJ and the MCM both contain the following sentence:

  "When convening a court-martial the convening authority shall detail as members thereof, such members of the armed forces as, in his opinion, are best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament. (UCMJ Art. 25(d)(2)

     I have made this or a similar argument many times while defending service members in courts-martial. None of the members of Webster Smith's jury panel had been a cadet at the USCGA while female cadets were living in Chase Hall. Only one had ever attended the USCGA; none had socialized with female cadet;, none had attended cadet athletic parties; none had read the cadet regulations; none had counseled a cadet concerning sexual assault; none had first-hand experience with the four class system; none had indoctrinated female cadets; and none had ever had a girl friend who was the first female brigade commander, who got pregnant, had an abortion, and continued to date the putative father for another six months before she was counseled by Coast Guard lawyers that she might have been raped at some point during her 18 month relationship with the accused in this court-martial.

    If, at least, one cadet had been on that jury, he could have explained to the members during deliberations many of the things that they were completely ignorant of. I contend that the jury did not have a clue as to what living conditions were like in Chase Hall, nor did they know what the social environment was like between Black male upper-class cadets and white female cadets in any of the four classes.

   That being the case, the jury was not composed of the best qualified people available in accordance with the UCMJ and Art 25(d)(2).

USALJ-ret.

Member since: Oct 24, 2009

The USCGA 1st accepted women in 1976. It has about 30% female cadets. In June 1976 the CGA court-martialed a cadet for alleged sex crimes. The stories that arose from the trial were sometimes bizarre. Here I intend to scrutinize those stories.

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