United States v. Ediger

United States v. Ediger, 68 M.J. 243 (2010) [5-0 decision with J. Erdmann writing the opinion.]

a) PROCEDURAL BASIS: At a contested general court-martial, Private First Class Jerry J. Ediger was convicted of one specification of rape of a person under the age of sixteen and two specifications of making a false official statement. Prior to trial the Government dismissed one specification of taking indecent liberties with a female under the age of sixteen. Ediger was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and confinement for fifteen years. The convening authority reduced the confinement to fourteen years and eleven months but otherwise approved the sentence. The United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the findings and sentence.

b) FACTS: The charges against Ediger arose out of allegations made by Ediger’s former stepdaughter, MA. MA testified that after a family trip to Walmart, Ediger told her that she had embarrassed him and he wanted to embarrass her in the same way. Ediger told MA to go to her
parents’ bedroom and ordered her to pull down her pants and get on the bed. When MA refused, Ediger pulled down her pants and told her to get on the bed on all fours facing away from him. Ediger proceeded to sit in a chair behind MA with a pornographic magazine and masturbate. MA testified that this event took place in 1999. Shortly after this incident MA left her mother’s home and moved in with her grandparents. In 2001, MA moved back in with her mother and Ediger and she testified that it was during this time period that Ediger raped her. After the rape MA again left to live with her grandparents. MA returned in 2005 when her mother was preparing for major surgery. At that time MA decided to tell her mother about Ediger’s abuse, which resulted in a criminal investigation and the filing of the instant charges against Ediger. The Government sought to introduce evidence of prior child molestation by Ediger pursuant to M.R.E. 414 in the form of testimony from TG. Ediger filed a motion to suppress TG’s testimony. For purposes of the motion, the parties stipulated that TG would testify as follows: (1) Ediger lived with TG and her mother when TG was between eight and eleven years old; (2) Ediger sexually abused her in a variety of ways including fondling her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him; (3) in one instance, Ediger punished TG by telling her to take off her pants and underwear and pose on her hands and knees on her bed while he spanked her, masturbated and licked her pubic area; (4) on another occasion, TG inadvertently walked in on Ediger and her mother engaged in a sex act and Ediger said to her, “you either have to leave, or you have to be a part of this,” or words to that effect; and (5) TG reported Ediger’s conduct to the police but recanted at the urging of her mother. Over the defense objection, the Military Judge admitted the testimony of TG as proper evidence under M.R.E. 414.

c) ISSUE: Whether the military judge erred in admitting the testimony of TG pursuant to M.R.E. 413 and M.R.E. 414?

d) DECISION AND RATIONALE: No. The CAAF recounts the general requirements for admission of evidence under M.R.E. 414. Admission of evidence under M.R.E. 414 requires a two-step analysis. First, the military judge must make three threshold findings: (1) whether the
accused is charged with an act of child molestation as defined by M.R.E. 414(a); (2) whether the proffered evidence is evidence of his commission of another offense of child molestation as
defined by the rule; and (3) whether the evidence is relevant under M.R.E. 401 and M.R.E. 402. United States v. Bare, 65 M.J. 35, 36 (C.A.A.F. 2007). Once the three threshold factors are met, the military judge must then apply a balancing test under M.R.E. 403. Id.

This case is not important for the fact that is repeats the above requirement. Instead, it is important because it stands for the proposition that once evidence is admitted under M.R.E. 414, it “may be considered for any matter to which it is relevant.” As noted above, the Government dismissed one specification of indecent liberties against the appellant. The defense argued that this resulted in TG’s testimony no longer being relevant. The argument, however, did not prevail. The CAAF was not persuaded that the military judge should be required to clearly focus the members on what charges they could and could not use the M.R.E. 414 evidence. Instead, the CAAF held that members can consider properly admitted 414 evidence for any charge that it is relevant. The holding reinforces the plain meaning of the language in M.R.E. 414 -“In a court-martial in which the accused is charged with an offense of child molestation, evidence of the accused’s commission of one or more offenses of child molestation is admissible and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.”