The NMCCA set aside the conviction and sentence of Lieutenant Commander Jason S. Doyle, finding his plea improvident.
Doyle opinion here
Appellant was convicted of one specification of aggravated assault with means likely to produce death or grievous bodily injury for strangulating his girlfriend. On appeal, Appellant argued that his dismissal from the Naval Service was inappropriately severe and that trial counsel “enflamed the military judge with improper sentencing argument” by referring to dismissed charges and by referring to Appellant as a “monster.” At this, the Court determined that these assignments were “without merit.”
Even though the NMCCA found Appellant's above arguments without merit, after reviewing the record they specified a separate issue. The NMCAA specified the following issue: whether there is an adequate factual basis in the record of trial to support Appellant’s guilty plea to aggravated assault when Appellant admits to “strangling” D.G. but that term is neither defined by the military judge nor used in a context to indicate grievous bodily harm was the “natural and probable consequence” of that action?
Upon consideration of the record, the Court set aside the judgment without prejudice.
Acceptance of the Guilty Plea
The general rule regarding the acceptance of a plea requires that the judge “ensure the plea is supported by a factual basis.” However, the military judge failed to elicit the requisite support. In an effort to be clear as to the standards, there was a clear inconsistency regarding the amount of force used. The Court appropriately noted that “[s]imply squeezing a neck—without evidence of the amount of force used—does not ipso facto establish an aggravated assault.”
At bottom, the Court explained that when there are inconsistencies as to the proposed plea, the military judge must “either resolve the apparent inconsistency or reject the plea.” Having failed to do so, the court set aside Appellant's conviction and sentence.
Senior Judge King announced the opinion in which Senior Judges Gaston and Stephens joined.