Published: November 8, 2013
An Air Force Academy major will fight drunken driving charges at a court-martial next week, the academy announced Thursday.
Prosecutors allege Maj. Dennis Nita with the 557th Flying Training Squadron at the academy was drinking before he crashed his pickup on Talon Drive on the campus and made false statements about how much he'd had to drink.
What's rare about the case is that it's heading to a court-martial, and the major could face a maximum of five years in military prison.
The military has harsh penalties for drinking and driving, which can bring six months behind bars and a dishonorable discharge. Nita faces harsher punishment for the alleged lie.
"I consumed a couple of beers, meaning two 16-ounce cups poured from a keg," charging papers say Nita told authorities a day after the wreck.
The academy is tough on lies.
The academy's honor code says cadets cannot lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who shun the code.
Cadets who lie face a presumptive punishment of disenrollment.
That's not as harsh as the punishment available under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which forbids troops from making false official statements.
Military law authorizes five years in prison for official statements made, verbally or in writing, with "intent to deceive."
To make their case, military prosecutors must prove that the defendant knew he was fibbing and meant to tell a lie. Evidence that the defendant had something to gain from the lie is not required.
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University, said military courts once held that defendants have a right to lie about their guilt. That changed after a Supreme Court ruling several years ago.
"It disregards human nature and the natural tendency to say, 'I didn't do it'," Fidell said.
The military takes the truth seriously, he said.
"The relations between military personnel are based on truth telling and having confidence in fellow soldiers," he said.
Jury selection in Nita's case is set for Tuesday.