The Military Rules of Evidence (MRE) published by the federal government, and the broader Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), are vast and complex rulebooks that govern all aspects of the special parallel criminal justice system we have set up for military personnel in this country. Realistically, only a court official or a trained and experienced military attorney can be expected to understand the full breadth of these codes, but it can nonetheless be very helpful to understand certain rules to gain a better understanding of key parts of the court-martial process.
MRE 613 is one such rule because it can sometimes be key to an effective defense strategy for service members facing charges at a court-martial.
Military Rule of Evidence 613: Key Concepts
Military Rule of Evidence 613 (MRE 613) is an important part of the U.S. military code that governs the admissibility of prior inconsistent statements by witnesses in a court-martial. To put MRE 613 in context, Section 6 of the MRE (i.e., all the “600” level rules) governs the rules for witnesses: how to call them, what they can and can’t be used for, how to establish their credibility, etc.
Some rules in MRE Section 6 are very generic and straightforward. MRE 603, as one example, merely requires witnesses to be sworn in, much like they would be in any civilian court. Others, like MRE 613, cover extremely specific circumstances. It is somewhat niche and fairly limited in the scope of its potential applications, yet it remains a powerful and important rule. That’s because MRE 613 relates to an issue that can change the entire direction and tone of a court proceeding: untrustworthy witnesses and their testimony.
Here are the basics:
- The fundamental principle driving MRE 613 is that a witness’s credibility can be challenged by introducing evidence that they made past statements contradicting their current testimony.
- Under MRE 613, these “prior inconsistent statements” must be used to specifically impeach a witness’s testimony and not to generally characterize them as untrustworthy. The admissibility of character evidence is covered in Section 4, rather than Section 6, of the MRE.
- MRE 613 applies to both civilian and military witnesses called at a court-martial.
- The rule is divided into two sections: section (a) covers “Showing or Disclosing the Statement During Examination,” while section (b) is “Extrinsic Evidence of a Prior Inconsistent Statement.”
- The “prior inconsistent statement” (i.e., the witness’s first version of their story before coming to court and changing it) does not need to have been made under oath.
- MRE 613 can apply to both oral and written statements.
- When MRE 613 is invoked, the witness accused of making inconsistent statements will be given an opportunity to explain, deny, or otherwise address their prior statement to the court’s satisfaction.
- After MRE 613 is used (e.g., the defense, during cross-examination, introduces evidence that the prosecution’s star witness has changed their story), the judge will then reassess the credibility of the witness in question and proceed accordingly.
How Military Rule of Evidence (MRE) 613 Works in a Court-Martial
MRE 613 allows a party in a court-martial to call into question a witness’s testimony by introducing evidence of a “prior inconsistent statement” they made. This means that you have the right to call out a witness who changes their story for the courtroom, so long as you can back up this accusation with evidence of the inconsistency, such as a voicemail, text message, or testimony from other witnesses.
In courts-martial, MRE 613 is used to challenge the credibility of witnesses and their testimony, generally in cases where there is a dispute about what exactly happened or where much of the evidence available is “he said, she said” style hearsay.
This could include all sorts of statements, from someone telling a third party that a sexual encounter was consensual to the accuser getting caught colluding to frame the accused for the crime in question. Often, the real-world application of MRE 613 is more nuanced than that, however, and requires a judge to carefully examine all available information.
A typical use of MRE 613 consists of a defense lawyer introducing prior inconsistent statements to undermine the alleged victim’s credibility and cast doubt on the prosecution’s version of events. MRE 613 may also be applied in administrative proceedings to challenge the credibility of military members who testify at promotion boards, misconduct hearings, and other functions.
Here are some examples of the practical, real-world implications of MRE 613 being used in a court-martial case:
- In an assault case where the purported victim testifies that the accused struck them without provocation, the defense may introduce evidence that the victim bragged to a local bartender about their intention to instigate a fight before the altercation occurred.
- A witness testifies under oath that they did not witness their co-worker removing equipment from an armory facility without proper authorization, but in a previous statement to military investigators, they admitted that they saw the entire incident.
- A service member has given a sworn statement to investigators claiming they were not present at the scene of a hit-and-run accident on base, but they later testified in court that they were in the area but not involved.
- A witness, in a sworn testimony, provides the court with a direct quote from the defendant wherein they admit to a crime, but in a previous statement to investigators, they said they could not recall what the defendant specifically said.
In all these examples, the prior inconsistent statement could be used to challenge the witness’s credibility and suggest that they may be lying to the court, either by incompetence or deliberate intention to mislead.
Aaron Meyer Law: Powerful Legal Representation for All Courts-Martial and Civilian Matters
If you or a loved one are facing legal issues within the military justice system, or if you’re a military member facing a civil or criminal trial, the experienced and dedicated team at Aaron Meyer Law is available to help. We put our deep understanding of the Military Rules of Evidence to work helping our military personnel through their most difficult legal situations. Contact Aaron Meyer Law today to schedule a no-stress, no-judgment consultation and learn how we can assist you.