United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Special Session - Nov. 2

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) will hold a Special Session from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2 in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom (AB Hall, No. 310). The public is invited to hear the oral arguments in an appeals case related to defense of duress, as well as if the threat of suicide can be used to establish the defense of duress.   

Hearing the oral arguments will be a panel of five judges: Chief Judge James E. Baker; Judges Charles E. Erdman, Scott W. Stucky, and Margaret A. Ryan; and Senior Judge Walter T. Cox. Third-year law student Justin Lepp will be arguing an amicus brief. CAAF holds Special Sessions at law schools as a part of an educational outreach program. Alumnus and Adjunct Professor Mark Zoole, JD '88, is serving as the Amicus Counsel of Record. CAAF personnel will be involved in several educational activities while on campus on November 2.  

Please note: Due to security reasons, backpacks, laptops, cameras, large purses, baseball caps, and heavy coats are not allowed in the courtroom. All cell phones must be turned off. No food or drink may be brought into the courtroom. 

The case to be argued is: 11-5003, United States of America v. Thomas J. Hayes (approx. 20 minutes per side).

  • Appellant Brief [view]
  • Appellee Brief [view]
  • Amicus Brief [view]
  • CAAF Case Summary [view]
  • Court Brochure, including bios. of chief judge and judges  [view]
  • Bio. of Senior Judge  [view]

Case Background

This case concerns a military judge’s decision to accept a guilty plea from Midshipman First Class Thomas J. Hayes. The case centers on whether or not the judge neglected to acknowledge the Appellant’s duress in his unsworn statement. While Hayes was enrolled at the United States Naval Academy, he reportedly received daily phone calls from his mother, who was suffering financial hardships and entreating Hayes to send her monetary support. Eventually, her demands escalated when she threatened to commit suicide. Desperate to placate his mother and fearful she would attempt suicide, Hayes said he began to steal equipment from the Naval Academy to sell on eBay. He then both sent the proceeds to his mother and used them to pay for trips home.

According to the court record, a military judge, sitting as a general court-marshal, convicted Hayes of 11 specifications of selling military property without authority and 10 specifications of theft of military property, in violation of Articles 108 and 121, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. §§ 908 and 921. Hayes was then sentenced to confinement for 36 months, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a $28,000 fine, and dismissal. The convening authority then approved the sentence, but pursuant to the pretrial agreement, suspended a portion of his confinement. 

In Hayes’ sentencing statements, he admitted that he knew what he did was wrong, but argued that he could not differentiate between the right thing for his mother and the right thing for his school. Hayes’ mother also submitted a letter to the court confirming she had lost her house, felt it was her son’s duty to support her, and had threatened suicide when he was not providing her with support. Despite these statements, the record shows that the judge did not question Hayes or his counsel on the defenses of duress. Hayes then appealed.

The issues on appeal include whether or not the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals: 

  • Failed to present a defense of duress.
  • Erred when it accepted Hayes' guilty plea.
  • Erred when it set aside the possibility of duress, because suicide cannot, as a matter of law, be the threat necessary to establish the defense of duress.