Disgraced Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl begins his pre-sentencing trial today at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The pre-sentencing trial is unique to military justice and allows prosecutors and defense attorneys to present substantial evidence before a sentence is imposed, legal scholars said.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to charges he deserted and endangered his fellow troops by misbehaving before the enemy when he left Observation Post Mest on June 30, 2009.
Known as a “naked plea” to try to limit his potential sentence, Bergdahl had no plea deal with Army prosecutors, his punishment will now be decided by the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance who could sentence Bergdahl to a maximum punishment up to life imprisonment, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of all pay and a dishonorable discharge.
During pre-sentencing procedures set to start Monday at the Army post in North Carolina, Nance is expected to hear a range of testimony from witnesses over several days.
The procedures, despite Bergdahl’s guilty plea, will amount to a mini-trial, which could be dramatic as prosecutors are expected to present evidence three servicemembers were severely injured on search-and-rescue missions for the missing soldier.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys are expected to call witnesses who will testify Bergdahl was suffering from mental health conditions when he walked away from his post and later was subjected to severe torture by his captors.
A risky move
Military law experts who spoke to Stars and Stripes said the naked plea is a rare and risky move by the defense.
Grey Rinckey, a practicing defense lawyer and former Army judge advocate who served as a prosecutor and defense attorney while in uniform, said he has only advised military clients twice to enter guilty pleas without a plea agreement.
“In those couple of times I’ve used it in the past, it payed off,” he said. “We got [the sentence] we wanted.”