The AFCCA affirmed the findings and sentence of Cadet Ethan J. Walton, finding no error materially prejudicial to his substantial rights.
Walton opinion here.
Appellant was convicted, in accordance with his pleas pursuant to a pretrial agreement, of two specifications of making a false official statement, in violation of Article 107, UCMJ, and one specification of wrongful use of cocaine on divers occasions, in violation of Article 112a, UCMJ. Appellant was sentenced to a dismissal, confinement for 60 days, and a reprimand. The convening authority approved only 30 days of confinement but otherwise approved the sentence.
On 14 April 2018, Air Force Academy Cadet Ethan Walton (Appellant) snorted cocaine provided by his roommate. Days later, Appellant was selected for a random urinalysis, which tested positive for benzoylecgnonine, the metabolite of cocaine. Unaware of his positive urinalysis test, Appellant again snorted cocaine on 11 May 2018, during a trip to Las Vegas where he stayed with three other cadets. After Appellant returned to the Air Force Academy, he met with his cadet squadron commander and lied that he may have tested positive for cocaine because he ate a cookie received from an unknown man in Colorado Springs. Later that day, Appellant told the same false story to a special agent from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). Appellant was then subjected to a second urinalysis, which again tested positive for cocaine. He was re-interviewed by AFOSI two weeks later and falsely told the investigator that there were no other cadets or military members with him on his trip to Las Vegas.
During presentencing proceedings at his court-martial, the military judge allowed Appellant to introduce a written unsworn statement discussing how his conviction of a federal drug offense would make it difficult to get a job and obtain federal financial aid for school, as well as the fact that the Air Force could recoup over $100,000 for Appellant’s education at the Air Force Academy. However, the military judge sustained trial counsel’s objection to Appellant’s introduction of three documents attached to his written statement: (1) a legal opinion by the Administrative Law Directorate, Office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General discussing recoupment laws pertaining to Air Force Academy cadets involuntarily discharged for serious misconduct; (2) a printout from the Federal Student Aid, Office of the U.S. Department of Education website entitled “Students with criminal convictions have limited eligibility for federal student aid”; and (3) another Federal Student Aid printout entitled “Federal Student Aid at a Glance”.
Appellant raised one issue on appeal: whether the military judge abused his discretion by excluding the attachments to Appellant’s unsworn statement. The Court also considered whether Appellant was entitled to relief due to facially unreasonable appellate delay.
The Court found that the documents Appellant sought to attach to his unsworn statement were neither a statement by Appellant nor by counsel on his behalf, and therefore, were not admissible under R.C.M. 1001(c)(2)(C). Further, the Court found that the military judge correctly determined that the “speculative impact of a court-martial conviction or a punitive discharge on whether or not Appellant might later be required to repay the cost of his Air Force Academy tuition or under what circumstances Appellant may or may not be eligible for federal student loans” constituted collateral matters. Therefore, the Court concluded that the military judge did not abuse his discretion by excluding the attachments.
The Court additionally concluded that, even assuming arguendothat the military judge erred by excluding the attachments, Appellant did not suffer prejudice because “the error would not have had a substantial influence on the sentence imposed.”