United States v. Stoltz

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-27-2013
  • Case #: 11-30297
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment is not implicated when a servicemember is given a nonjudicial punishment without a waiver of the servicemember’s right to demand a court-martial instead.

In 2008, Christopher Stoltz, an active duty enlisted member of the United States Coast Guard, was observed watching movies of children performing sexual acts on his laptop. Stoltz admitted to possessing child pornography both on the ship and in his home. His commanding officers decided not to court-martial Stoltz, but when after seven months no civilian criminal charges were brought against him, his commanding officers decided to impose on him a nonjudicial punishment (“NJP”) proceeding. In 2008 and 2009, Stoltz was never informed that he could reject the NJP and instead demand a court martial. In April 2011, an Alaskan grant jury indicted Stoltz. The district court dismissed the charge under the Double Jeopardy Clause and determined that Stoltz should have had the opportunity to demand a court-martial because the vessel exception did not apply. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit looked at whether the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents civilian criminal prosecution of a servicemember who was not informed of or waived his statutory right to demand a court-martial and received NJP. The panel did not resolve the issue of whether the vessel exception applied to Stoltz’s NJP because the dismissal of the indictment was not warranted. The panel concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause did not apply because Stoltz had never been previously criminally charged for possession of child pornography and the NJP is noncriminal. The panel said that the due process violation occurred in the NJP proceedings and not in the current prosecution. Stoltz’s remedy if there was a constitutional violation would lay in the NJP proceedings, not in Ninth Circuit’s proceeding. The panel held that the district court erred dismissing the criminal charges to rectify the errors that occurred in the NJP proceedings. REVERSED.

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