Dozens of students filled the newly constructed courtroom at the J. Reuben Clark Law School on Brigham Young University campus to listen to arguments presented before the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
“We are deeply grateful to BYU for their hospitality. I’ve gotta admit, when I saw this place, I would never have believed it would’ve looked like this,” said Chief Judge Scott Stucky, chuckling and gesturing around the crowded hall on Wednesday.
He and the other four civilian judges with the appeals court heard arguments about a case involving an army colonel convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography.
Col. Robert J. Rice kept sexually explicit child pornography images on a laptop and hard drive between August 2010 and January 2013 and distributed images twice in that time. His wife found the images and reported the discovery to the police, according to court records.
But the criminal charges were divided between military prosecutors and prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
In May 2016, the district court convicted Rice of one count of possessing child pornography and one count of distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the charges.
However, five months later, the military court also convicted Rice for two counts of possessing child pornography and one count of distributing child pornography, dismissing Rice’s appeal that the military charges violated the double jeopardy clause.
Rice was sentenced to serve four years that would run concurrently with the district court sentence delivered in December, the Associated Press reported.
“We don’t dispute that the government could have found a way to try the appellant in both civilian court and at a court-martial without offending the double jeopardy clause,” said attorney Stephen Vladeck. “The problem is I think it’s now clear that’s not what happened.”
He explained the prosecutors could have successfully divided the charges by the number of images found on different hardware rather than charging Rice with possessing the same images at different times.
Major Catharine Parnell argued the military prosecutors did not violate the clause as they filed the charges under a different clause in the same statute than the district court.
“If this court were to find the constitutional violation, it should not issue a remedy because the appellant no longer has a constitutional right to vindicate,” she said.
After the arguments, BYU students had the opportunity to ask the appeals court judges and attorneys questions about their work and cases not under review.
Each judge explained their educational history, military service and individual decisions to become involved in the justice system. Judge Stucky answered questions explaining the need for a military court while Judge Margaret Ryan described her preparation before an oral argument.
Dean Gordon Smith said he was disappointed the school’s mock courtroom wasn’t completed in time for the hearing, but he likened the construction to the change the students pursuing to create at the law school.
“The work of justice is never really complete,” he added. “It’s always going to require additional labor.”