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NEWS | Sept. 13, 2011

N.C. Guard, Botswana military share legal expertise

By Capt. Adam Blocker, U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard

GABORONE, Botswana - Legal experts from the North Carolina National Guard and Botswana Defence Force held their first joint mock courts-martial as part of a trial advocacy workshop here August 15 to19.

The event, coordinated through the National Guard State Partnership Program and U.S. Africa Command, allowed American and Batswana military members to share legal concepts and frameworks within military justice, to understand different approaches and procedures in trial tactics, and to advance the relationship between the U.S. military and BDF.

"[I'm] impressed with [the BDF's] advanced justice system and their enthusiasm to learn ours," said Army Maj. Alex Mendaloff III, North Carolina National Guard Trial Defense Services chief.

The BDF Act, the law that applies to the Botswana military, and the Botswana civilian legal systems have several key differences from the U.S. justice system. For one, Botswana does not permit plea bargaining; does not offer court-appointed attorneys, except in capital cases; and doesn't have a Trial Defense Service, a familiar concept with the U.S. Army.

Another primary difference between the U.S. and Botswana military is that the BDF only permits women in the officer corps.

The presentations and exchanges during the workshop proved to be a valuable experience for both parties as they prepared for a mock courts-martial presentation for students of the BDF Staff College, who served as members of the jury.

"This was a very good exchange of information … as the BDF identified items that are issues with [the U.S. military]," said Army Staff Sgt. Kristian Hall, senior paralegal noncommissioned officer and sexual assault response coordinator for the North Carolina Guard.

After a full day of bilateral instructional and introductory legal briefings, the staff from both the N.C. Guard Judge Advocate General Corps and the BDF JAG Corps met to begin preparations for full scale mock courts-martial.

"The trial is the crucible to determine the truth," said Army Lt. Col. Graham Green, the chief of military justice for the North Carolina National Guard.

BDF Judge Advocates and paralegals took the lead as the prosecution and defense teams, as well as serving in roles as the accused, victim investigator and other witnesses, while staff college students served as the jury.

"I am looking forward to serving as a prosecutor for this court-martial, demonstrating our professionalism to our future commanders, learning from our partners and sharing our approach," said Botswana 1st Lt. Tshepo Gaubotsane, a BDF judge advocate officer before the start of the trial.

The mock courts-martial featured introductory presentations from both BDF and North Carolina judge advocates, examination and cross-examination conducted by the BDF judge advocates, questions from the students, opening and closing statements, and ultimately deliberation on the evidence.

During the preparations, Green, who was also the lead trial counsel in the mock courts-martial, suggested to his BDF colleagues that "you have to find that prosecutor in the jury room who will stand up and say, 'this is not right,'" and this is exactly what the BDF judge advocates did.

The scenario allowed BDF Maj. Ronald Kgomela, a staff judge advocate, and Army Col. Richard Fay, North Carolina National Guard staff judge advocate, to periodically call an administrative pause to the proceedings. This presented an opportunity to further explain a concept to the future commanding officers or to explain legal terminology used by both sides.

After the closing arguments, the 33-member panel was divided into three separate syndicates or juries in order to give all of the officers an opportunity to act as a panel member. Three separate juries produced three entirely different verdicts against the "accused." They ranged from "guilty on all counts" to "not guilty" for the majority of the offenses.

In response to the wide variety of verdicts, Mendaloff said, "This is exactly the way it goes. There is no rhyme or reason with juries, but they make quality decisions."

With three full days of intense preparation, trial and deliberations, the bilateral mock courts-martial were deemed a great success by the participants and the BDF leadership.

"I learned a lot from the direct and cross examination from both the defense and the prosecution and how [our U.S. counterparts] were in control the whole time" said Kgomela.

"We are a very young department that lacks in experience [and] in personnel," said Kelipi. "The more we can learn from others the more we can improve."

Fay, who has worked for the past two years to develop and nurture the exchange of ideas and shared learning with the BDF Legal directorate, said the workshop has served as another step in advancing U.S.-Botswana relations and partnership between each countries militaries.

 

 

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