U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals Hears Oral Argument at GW Law

May 29, 2024
Back Row: Senior Judge Bill Annexstad, Senior Judge Natalie Richardson, and Judge Roberto Ramírez Front Row: Christiana Lano, Cathryn Jones, and James Van Drie

The GW Law National Security, Cybersecurity, and Foreign Relations Law Program, along with the Military Law Society and National Security Law Association hosted the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals for an oral argument in the Jacob Burns Moot Courtroom, followed by a question and answer session and reception. Four GW Law students submitted amicus briefs for both parties and appeared before the court for the hearing.

James Van Drie, JD '24, and Cathryn Jones, Class of 2025, submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the appellant, while Christiana Lano, Class of 2025, and Kyung Mo Kim, Class of 2025, wrote an amicus brief in support of the appellee. Van Drie and Kim presented oral arguments based on their amicus briefs to the court and responded to questions from the judges.

Van Drie said, “When I was presented with the opportunity to argue before the court, I was excited at the opportunity to hone my appellate advocacy skills.” His appearance before the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals judges was his first oral argument before an actual court. “The process honed my appellate advocacy skills and gave me the chance to argue in front of a court about real issues of law, that affect service members,” Van Drie said. “I am honored and grateful for the opportunity.” His co-counsel, Cathryn Jones, described the opportunity as “a remarkable and a genuine immersion into the complexities of military law.” She said, “The mentorship I received was nothing short of extraordinary, offering insights and invaluable guidance that honed my advocacy skills. Working on a case with tangible implications allowed me to elevate my research abilities and truly contribute in a meaningful way.”

For Christiana Lano, a member of the student team who submitted the amicus brief in support of the appellee, this was the first experience she had writing an amicus brief. “It meant a lot that the judges actually considered our brief in their decision and that we had a voice in a very important issue in military justice,” Lano said. “This experience overall reaffirmed my commitment to wanting to join the JAG Corps, and I would encourage students who have the opportunity to do anything like this in the future to absolutely do so.”

Kyung Mo Kim said, "Very few students get to say that they argued in a real criminal case before graduating from law school. Arguing in support of the victim in this case made me feel like I was making a real difference, applying all of the knowledge and skills that my previous professors had taught me. I especially want to encourage other transfer students at GW Law to take advantage of this opportunity."

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals hears and decides appeals of Air Force courts-martial convictions and appeals. The court made up of Senior Judge Natalie Richardson, Senior Judge Bill Annexstad, and Judge Roberto Ramírez heard arguments in the case of United States v. Senior Airman Monica R. Arroyo.

Senior Airman Monica R. Arroyo was convicted, consistent with her plea, of one specification of assault consummated by a battery against LP in violation of Article 128, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 928. She was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 37 days, and reduction to the grade of E-2. The convening authority took no action on the findings or sentence.

The appeal was brought by the appellant to challenge whether (1) the military judge committed plain error by admitting the victim’s unsworn statement; (2) circuit trial counsel committed prosecutorial misconduct in his sentencing argument; and (3) the appellant is entitled to relief because she was not timely served a copy of the victim’s submission of matters nor was she provided an opportunity to rebut those matters prior to the convening authority’s decision on action.

Military criminal appellate courts have held annual oral argument hearings at GW Law as part of their public outreach programs since 2009, including the Army Court of Criminal Appeals in 2022, 2019, and 2016, as well as the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in 2023, 2018 and 2017.