Anita Aboagye-Agyeman ’11 eloquently and forcefully argued before The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the nation’s highest military appellate court, on Tuesday, November 2, 2010. The Court was in session at Brooklyn Law School as part of its Project Outreach program, developed to demonstrate the operation of a federal court of appeals and the military criminal justice system.
Chief Judge Andrew S. Effron, Judge James E. Baker, Judge Charles E. “Chip” Erdmann, Judge Scott W. Stucky, and Judge Margaret A. Ryan presided. Lieutenant Commander Sergio Sarkany, JAGC, U.S. Navy represented the government. Aboagye-Agyeman and Captain Bow Bottomly of the U.S. Marine Corps argued for the appellant, Navy Airman William T. Jones III, who was convicted of misusing government property and receiving child pornography. Although he initially pled guilty and was convicted in a general court martial, the circumstances of his plea remained in question.
In a military trial, before the court accepts a guilty plea, the judge must be convinced that the plea is provident (knowing and voluntary), and each party must be allowed equal opportunity to the other’s evidence. At the providency hearing, Airman Jones appeared to have a difficult time remembering some of the facts of the case, and his counsel informed the court that a time and location for Airman Jones to view the evidence had been arranged. The judge stated that Airman Jones would not be permitted to view the evidence. Despite the judge’s statement, Jones still pled guilty.
Jones appealed his case to the Navy Military Court of Appeals. His attorney argued that the discovery rule allowing broad access to the evidence was violated, as well as Jones’ Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Due to Jones’ difficulty substantiating the charges, his attorney also argued that his plea could not be deemed provident. The Navy Military Court of Appeals denied Jones’ request and upheld the decision of the trial court, but Jones appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and his case was chosen for Project Outreach.
Project Outreach encourages law students to participate by presenting an argument for the side of their choice. Aboagye-Agyeman chose the defense, filed an amicus brief and presented oral arguments before the court. She argued that even though Airman Jones pled guilty, his plea was not provident, and therefore must be set aside. She questioned whether Jones’ plea was knowing was relevant because he never saw the evidence to which he pled guilty, and Jones may have consequently pled guilty to possessing child pornography that he actually never possessed.
Normally, students prepare and present arguments in pairs, but Aboagye-Agyeman, a Moot Court champion, prepared and argued singlehandedly, with support from Professor Robert Pitler and Visiting Professor Neil P. Cohen, both experts in criminal law and evidence.
Aboagye-Agyeman found preparing for the case exhilarating. “I love arguing appellate litigation. It’s a unique opportunity to have a conversation with judges while advocating for your client. I chose to argue on behalf of the defendant because I strongly believed that his plea should not have been accepted by the judge because of the defect,” she said.