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Joel Miller

Other Federal Exonerations with Perjury or False Accusation
In December 2010, a federal grand jury indicted 39-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Joel Miller on charges of illegally possessing machine guns that he brought back from Iraq to his home in Hemet, California.

The prosecution claimed that Miller, who had been given a bad conduct discharge in 2011 after he was convicted in a military court of submitting $16,000 in fraudulent travel invoices, smuggled the weapons out of Iraq after completing a 14-month tour of duty in 2005. The weapons, according to prosecutors, may have once belonged to a member of Saddam Hussein’s Royal Guard.

In June 2012, Miller went to trial in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California on two counts of possessing machine guns and one count of transfer of a machine gun. It is against federal law to own or transfer a machine gun without a special permit.

Charles Jones, another Marine, testified under a grant of immunity that he purchased a rifle from Miller that federal investigators later seized and identified as a machine gun. Jones admitted he did not know the weapon was a machine gun.

Friends of Miller and his then-wife, Melissa, testified that on one occasion, they were at the Miller home and were shown a chrome-plated AK-47 that Miller claimed he had brought back from Iraq. One friend was photographed holding the weapon and the photo was later published on a social media website.

Miller testified in his own defense and told the jury that the guns were not his. Miller said the guns belonged to another Marine, Christopher Bruce, who smuggled them out of Iraq. Miller testified that Bruce asked him to store the weapons because Bruce was having marital difficulties and his wife wanted the weapons removed from their home.

Miller claimed that later on his ex-wife, Melissa, began an affair with Bruce while he was living at the military base in Camp Pendleton, California. He testified that he threatened to report the affair to military authorities because adultery is a military crime and that in retaliation, Melissa and Bruce decided to leave Hemet for the state of Washington. Before they left, Miller testified, Melissa called authorities and falsely claimed the guns belonged to Miller.

The defense sought to call Melissa and Bruce as witnesses at the trial, but the prosecution objected and U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips refused to order them to testify.

On June 29, 2012, the jury acquitted Miller of selling a machine gun to Jones, and of illegally possessing the weapon Jones said he purchased from Miller. The jury convicted Miller of possessing the AK-47 that was portrayed in the photograph published on the social media page. He was sentenced to two years in prison and entered prison on January 28, 2013.

In December 2013, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The appeals court ruled that the defense should have been allowed to call Bruce and Melissa as witnesses.

“The district court abused its discretion by precluding Miller from calling two witnesses to testify about their alleged extramarital affair,” the appeals court said. “Their testimony about the affair would have corroborated Miller’s testimony and bolstered his defense that he was framed in retaliation for threatening to report the alleged affair to military authorities,” the appeals court held.

Miller was released on bond on December 26, 2013 and went to trial a second time in December 2014. Both Bruce and Melissa testified. Bruce admitted that he and Melissa were having an affair, but denied that the weapons were his or that he and Melissa attempted to frame Miller. Melissa also denied that she attempted to frame Miller, and she denied that she ever had an affair with Bruce. Miller’s attorney, however, presented evidence that Melissa notified authorities about the guns just before she and Bruce and her three children left California for the state of Washington where they signed a one-year lease on an apartment.

On December 12, the jury acquitted Miller of the charge of illegal possession of a machine gun.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/19/2014
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:35
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No