Machinist’s Mate Fireman Nancy L. Castillo was already in hot water with the Navy when she was busted near Bremerton, Wash., for suspected drunken driving.
What didn’t happen next has now brought Castillo’s case all the way from Washington’s Kitsap County to the nation’s highest military court.
On Wednesday, in a dispute potentially important to myriad service members, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will consider whether the Navy can require sailors to self-report civilian criminal charges, despite the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.
“The self-reporting requirement . . . provides a real and appreciable danger of legal detriment,” Castillo’s defense attorney, Navy Lt. Carrie E. Theis, argued in a brief, adding that “it is reasonable for a service-member to believe that disclosing would lead to incriminating evidence.”
Theis, who declined to comment Tuesday, has some support for her argument, although in the end she may be going against the tide in a court respectful of military discipline.
In a 2009 case also involving an unreported drunken driving charge filed against an East Coast-based Navy enlisted man, a divided U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals concluded a self-reporting requirement covering alcohol arrests violated the Fifth Amendment.
The Navy-Marine Corps court noted that a self-reporting rule “demands the revelation, directly or indirectly, of facts relating a service member to an offense.” The higher-ranked U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces also struck down the rule concerning alcohol offenses, although not on constitutional grounds.
The appellate court could also on Wednesday try to resolve Castillo’s case without digging deep into the Fifth Amendment.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, issued new regulations in July 2010. Sailors must now report the basic civilian charges, but not all the factual details. For doing so, they receive Navy immunity unless military investigators independently obtain evidence.
“Arrest records are not covered by the Fifth Amendment privilege,” Marine Corps Capt. Matthew H. Harris wrote in a brief for the Navy, adding that “the fact that (Castillo) was arrested and charged, by itself, could never form the basis for prosecution against her.”
Harris and Theis will clash Wednesday morning in oral argument before the five civilian judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, who serve 15-year terms and meet in a courthouse about three-quarters of a mile from the Capitol.
The judge’s ultimate decision will shape what the Navy requires of all its sailors, as well as, potentially, the course of Castillo’s own civilian life.
Castillo joined the Navy in August 2006 and after training reported to the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier then home-ported at San Diego. While there, she married a man she had known for several weeks.
The marriage was never consummated, the man later testified. The man, called “KC” in court documents, further testified that he came home in 2008 to the house being shared with other roommates, only to learn that Castillo had moved out.
“They also told KC he needed to vacate the house by the end of the week,” the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals reported last year.
But for the next several years, according to the Navy, Castillo kept filing for and receiving housing and other allowances granted married couples. After the Ronald Reagan temporarily relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility at Bremerton in January 2012, officials began investigating Castillo’s allowances.
In February 2012, Castillo was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. She told a supervisor she got a “ticket,” but officers learned about the DUI charge by chance six months later.
“Castillo worked through the civilian court system and was ultimately not convicted of drunk or reckless driving.” Theis noted.
A military panel, though, convicted Castillo of charges, including larceny, filing a false report and violating the Navy’s order to self-report civilian charges. She was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge and $5,000 fine.