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Arkansas court overturns National Guard officer conviction

June 12, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a military court conviction of a national guard officer accused of sexual assault, arguing lack of jurisdiction because the man wasn’t on active duty when the alleged assault happened.

The high court on Thursday ruled 6-1 that the military tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the case against Chief Warrant Officer 4 Adam Childers, who was court-martialed over an alleged sexual assault in 2016 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Childers pleaded guilty to charges of cruelty and maltreatment and of failure to obey order or regulation at court-martial in 2018. In his plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop the sexual misconduct charges. He was dismissed from the National Guard and confined for 180 days during his appeal, his attorney Nathan Freeburg said.

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Childers appealed his conviction to the state Supreme Court, arguing that because he wasn’t in “duty status” at the time of the alleged assault, the court-martial did not have jurisdiction over him.

The high court on Thursday agreed with Childers, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“As to the charges and specifications Childers is appealing, we reverse the lower tribunal’s determination on jurisdiction and dismiss,” Justice Josephine Hart wrote in the majority opinion.

The alleged sexual assault, which involved a subordinate, happened Dec. 12, 2016, in Oklahoma. Childers and two other National Guard soldiers drove from Camp Robinson in Arkansas to Norman, Oklahoma, for a conference, according to the court’s ruling.

“Whether or not a servicemember is in a duty status is a line that should not be blurred,” Hart wrote in the opinion. “The lack of a duty status means there was no court-martial jurisdiction for those offenses.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Brian Mason, the National Guard’s spokesman, said in an email Thursday that the high court’s ruling does not affect the military judge’s initial ascertainment that Childers is guilty of failure to obey order or regulation. A resentencing hearing will be scheduled, Mason said.

Childers remains an officer at the Arkansas National Guard on voluntary non-drilling status, a spokesman said.

Freeburg praised the ruling, adding that Arkansas otherwise doesn’t have jurisdiction over the alleged out-of-state assault. He noted that he’s not aware whether officials in Oklahoma are investigating the case.

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