On December 25, 2013, President Obama signed a defense bill that changed how cases of sexual assault are managed within the military justice system. Any person found guilty of sexual assault will be subject to dishonorable discharge, and their commanders no longer have the ability to reverse the decision of the jury. New provisions allow for victims to be protected from retaliation if reporting a sexual assault, and to have access to legal assistance and other support.
The bill was in response to certain facts, including that the Department of Defense has said that about 86% of sexual assaults are not reported, as the victim is in fear of losing a job or career advancement if they report the crime.
Some other changes in the law include that judge advocates are required to serve as the investigating officers in Article 32 investigations. Article 32 investigations are proceedings similar to a grand jury, in which it will determine if there is sufficient evidence to file charges. A judge advocate is a trained attorney, and considered to be more qualified to make the decision about whether felony charges of sexual assault should be filed against a person.
A special victims unit has been established for the purpose of providing support to alleged victims of sexual assault. This unit has the duty to inform the alleged victim about the progress of the case, and the ability to attend any of the hearings, and inform of any delays in the justice process. This unit is also able to represent the alleged victim at trial, and to protect the party against violations of the "Rape Shield Rule" in which a victim is no longer forced to be subjected to questioning about his or her medical history, clothing and some other personal information at the Article 32 hearing, and is no longer required to appear at the hearing, as is the fact in many civilian rape or sexual assault cases.
The military character of the defendant will no longer be considered in imposing a sentence. If the convening authority does not choose to convene a general court martial (for any reason, including lack of evidence) the case must be reviewed by the next highest convening authority.
All cases of sexual assault charges have become extremely serious, and the penalties imposed increased in a conviction. There are a huge number of cases that have been filed since the change in law, and if you have been caught in the military justice system, accused of sexual assault, it is imperative that you are represented by a very experienced military criminal defense lawyer. You can expect every detail of the case to be under scrutiny, and even if you are innocent and the charges are false, the threat of conviction is higher than in any time in the past.
If you are facing a general court martial and accused of rape or sexual assault, get in touch with Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law at once for defense counsel.