Stars and Stripes seeking explanation on Article 32 ruling
Lawyers for Stars and Stripes filed a follow-up petition Monday in connection with a Naples Navy Article 32 case dismissed last week.
Criminal charges against a Naples-based sailor were dropped Dec. 14 after the convening authority ruled that the Article 32 investigation was “procedurally defective.” That ruling came on a petition from Stars and Stripes arguing that the Article 32 hearing was illegally closed to the media and public.
The new petition, filed at the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, says that while the government was correct in admitting error, the reasons for the decision must be made clear, because otherwise the decision avoids proper review and is “capable of repetition.”
It states that Stripes could, in the future, be shut out of similar proceedings “without any greater showing of need than is presented on this record.”
Rear Adm. Noel Preston, commander of Navy Region Europe and the general court-martial convening authority, dismissed the case against Chief Petty Officer Felix Correa after deciding the investigating officer had improperly closed the investigation.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and in order to ensure that the interests and rights of both the accused and the public and media are given due regard, [the pretrial investigation] is deemed procedurally defective and charges are hereby dismissed without prejudice,” Preston wrote to Cmdr. Thomas O’Neill, commander of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station, Correa’s command.
While the Navy appellate division sought to have the Stripes petition dismissed as moot, the ruling also permitted the possibility that Correa could be brought before an Article 32 investigation again. The Navy has not said whether it would do so. Correa, 41, had been charged with indecent acts with a minor, fraternization and sexual harassment.
In the November Article 32 event, the investigating officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kathryn McCormick, barred the public and media from the entire pretrial investigation. Stripes had argued that existing case law states that if a hearing or trial is to be closed to the public, it must be done on a “case-by-case, witness-by-witness, circumstance-by-circumstance basis,” as established by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services.
In response to the petition filed Monday, Chief Petty Officer John Musser, spokesman for Navy Region Europe, said, “With the petition still before the court and the process not complete, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”