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The US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces presides over Peterson

An audience member addresses the sitting judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces during the question and answer portion a hearing held at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 3, 2016. The appellate court was in town to preside over an appeal presented on behalf of Senior Airman Trentlee D. McClour, who petitioned the court to review whether or not there was an inconsistency in the initial proceedings of his case. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Grimm)

An audience member addresses the sitting judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces during the question and answer portion a hearing held at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 2, 2016. The appellate court was in town to preside over an appeal presented on behalf of Senior Airman Trentlee D. McClour, who petitioned the court to review whether or not there was an inconsistency in the initial proceedings of his case. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Grimm)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

With the banging of a gavel, the Air Force Space Command auditorium at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, was converted into an official federal courthouse Nov. 2. The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was officially in session, allowing attendees to witness military lawyers arguing real cases before the court.

The Court’s oral arguments are usually heard at its courthouse in Washington D.C., but occasionally as part of the Court’s judicial outreach program, they hold these arguments at law schools, military bases and other public facilities. Known as Project Outreach, the program was developed as a way to build public awareness and demonstrate how the federal court of appeals and military criminal justice system operates.

“Our justice system only works if it operates fairly and is perceived as being fair,” said Maj. Michael Thieme, AFSPC military justice and inspections chief. “Anytime the justice process is made more transparent, it engenders confidence in the hearts and minds of the military members who serve under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Members of Team Pete were invited to witness the Court in action as it presided over an appeal presented on the behalf of Senior Airman Trentlee D. McClour, who petitioned the court to review whether or not there was an inconsistency in the initial proceedings of his case. The lawyers, members of the Bar of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, representing both the appellant and the government, were each afforded 20 minutes to argue and defend their respective viewpoints.

“Advocates on both sides did an excellent job zealously representing the interests of their client, presenting well-crafted arguments and responding to challenging questions from the five judges on the bench,” said Thieme.

After the hearing, the Court opened itself up to answer questions and explain to the attendees how the court works and decides which appeals are heard and which aren’t. The five sitting judges explained that the decision of which cases are heard by the Court of Appeals is at their discretion. They scrutinize the applications and decide whether or not an appeal warrants review.

Standing as the next tier in the military’s judicial system, The Court of Appeals is just one step below the Supreme Court. If an individual being tried under the UCMJ feels they have a viable reason to challenge the initial ruling of the trial court that prosecuted them, they may submit an appeal to the Court with the hopes of having their case selected for reconsideration.

“I look for clear errors that will possibly result in relief for the accused,” said the Honorable Margaret A. Ryan, sitting judge for the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. “If there’s a case I feel is interesting, I’ll present it to the others and say ‘I think we should do this one.’”

There are a few specific circumstances, which are spelled out in the Court’s primary jurisdictional statute Article 67 of the UCMJ, that require the review of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. All cases in which the sentence extends to death, all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals which the Judge Advocate General orders sent to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to be reassessed, and all cases reviewed by a Court of Criminal Appeals in which, upon petition of the accused and if it’s determined to be a good cause, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will grant a review.

“We have to be careful because there are some cases that we shouldn’t grant,” said the Honorable Charles E. Erdman, chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. “Some cases can result in a real quagmire, confusing elements of the law.”

Cases on the Court’s future docket address a broad range of legal issues, including constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, ethics, administrative law, and national security law.

At the conclusion of the question and answer portion of the hearing, the judges emphasized how they hoped this opportunity for the attendees to witness the law in action was informative. It gave military members, and those subject to prosecution under the UCMJ, a better understanding of the legal protections and appeal opportunities afforded them.

"Project Outreach serves two purposes in my view,” said Lt. Col. Jeffery Palomino, Appellate Defense Division Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces chief. “The first is recognizable due process, it demonstrates the fairness of the UCMJ. Second, it shows Judge Advocates in action. The auditorium was packed with AFSPC staff Team Peterson personnel along with airmen and soldiers from the Colorado Springs military community. Afterwards, one observer told me she was very proud to be in the Air Force that day. Those word showed me this was a special event.”

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui