An odd case recently resolved by the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals shows how a soldier convicted of desertion can still take home an honorable discharge. It's all a matter of timing and regulatory ambiguity.
Melanie A. McPherson was in the Army Reserve, when she was recalled and ordered to Fort Bliss in 2006 prior to deployment to Iraq. The court explained:
"Concerned her job assignment in Iraq would entail something other than her military occupational specialty, appellant left Fort Bliss and remained absent without leave from 28 July 2006 until turning herself into authorities on 8 September 2006."
McPherson, who in earlier profiles sounds like a thoughtful woman, was subsequently convicted of "desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty" as well as missing a troop movement. She was sentenced, among other things, to a bad conduct discharge.
But then, in what appears to have been a bureaucratic ****-up, the Army in August 2007 issued McPherson her DD 214 form identifying her as having been honorably discharged. Eighteen months later, the Army tried to revoke that as having been a mistake. But, really weirdly, the Army in 2009 again sent McPherson a second honorable discharge certificate
For reasons that essentially seem to boil down to ambiguous Army regulations concerning the finality of discharges, the appellate court sided with McPherson; the second discharge stands. States the court:
"Just as Congress should speak 'in language that is clear and definite,' so too should our service regulations. We will continue to interpret those regulations in favor of an accused when there are ambiguities."