Lawyers: What's going on here? (Judge dumps guilty plea)

So, Lynndie England’s guilty plea has been rejected by the judge in her case. According to this story:

So, what happens next? I mean, it’s clear from the story that the whole process starts again, but what implication does this ruling have for the way in which the new trial will proceed?

Does the judge’s ruling preclude any future guilty plea by England? Does it form part of the evidence at the new trial?

Also, if she really didn’t know that what she was doing was illegal, i was always under the impression this wasn’t an excuse. Is this a peculiarity of military law?

While i tend to agree with the judge that there’s no such thing as a one-person conspiracy, why would he necessarily take the word of England’s boyfriend (who’s been convicted and jailed) over her own admission of guilt?

This is a fascinating ruling, at least to this layman, and if some lawyerly type can shed further light, i’d be most grateful.

Not having read the case, I’m only commenting in a very general way, but judges have a duty not to accept a guilty plea if there is any evidence before them that suggests the accused had a valid defence. Even with a guilty plea, it only becomes final when the court rules on it, and the court has a duty to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

From the news reports, it sounds like the judge wasn’t satisfied that Ms. England appreciated that she had been given an illegal order. I understand that in military law, “just following orders” is not a defence - but I think that has to be understood in the sense that the accused had to realise that the order was unlawful. Some unlawful orders just stand out as unlawful: “Private! turn the machine-gun on all of these non-combatants!” should immediately raise some questions.

But other orders may not be clearly unlawful, for instance a military superior ordering a military clerk to include some documents in the day’s routine shredding - if it turns out that the superior was intentionally destroying sensitive documents by giving them to the clerk, but the clerk didn’t know that, the clerk couldn’t be aware that it was an illegal order.

This case seems to be getting pretty murky on that point: should England have realised the order was unlawful?

In one article I read, Graner is quoted as testifying that he told England that this leash thing was a standard technique that was used in prisons, and the photos would be used for training purposes (I’m paraphrasing - can’t seem to find the article just now.) And he had experience in corrections state-side, IIRC. So if she had zero training in corrections, and is assured by the superior giving her the order that it’s standard orperating procedure in a corrections setting - does she know that it’s an illegal order? If that’s truly what Graner told her, where’s the conspiracy on her part? That’s what seems to have raised a doubt in the judge’s mind, leading him to refuse the plea.

As to what happens next - dunno. Depends on how the military prosecutors and the military code of justice deal with this issue.