Once a criminal trial begins in civilian court, facts concerning the incident in question are of the utmost importance and there is little opportunity assert the character of the accused. However, in military court, the opposite often proved true and the military service record-- submitted as proof of outstanding character-- was a critical piece of evidence. Now, a new law has outlawed this much relied-on defensive strategy and the "good soldier" character defense is officially barred from presentation in military courts martial.

As reported by Stars & Stripes , the "good soldier" defense has been a prevalent practice surrounding military legal procedures for years, but finally hit a breaking point when lawmakers realized it was being used effectively in cases of alleged sexual assault. Initially, when military courts only dealt with military infractions, they allowed the submission of service records to assess the career of a defendant. This policy persisted, however, has jurisdiction of military courts expanded to handle criminal allegations and, up until recently, was effectively being used to reduce and dismiss charges-- even when substantial witness testimony and evidence against the defendant was present.

Character defenses were not just present during actual trial, but throughout military judicial procedure. It was frequently used:

  • During the fact-finding stage
  • In Article 32 hearings (or "preliminary hearings")
  • During courts martial
  • After sentencing and the appeals process

The same Stars & Stripes article recounts the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who, after being found guilty of sexual assault, found himself re-instated after superiors were inundated appeal letters citing his service record. The new law does not ban character defenses from the fact-finding and preliminary hearing stages, but is aimed at decreasing the likelihood of cases like Wilkerson's from happening any further.


The new "good soldier" law is just one of several recent shifts in military policy that is making the court martial mirror a civilian criminal trial. Lawmakers and activists have long-identified the military's sexual abuse cases as a systemic problem and new laws-- such as the one that protects preliminary hearing witnesses-- have made it clear that transparency and balance are a new priorities for military law procedure.

If you have concerns about this new policy and your court martial, then call Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. Our firm represents military personnel all over the country and ensures their rights are protected and voices are heard in the face of even the most serious of allegations.

Call today to schedule a free case evaluation .

A military attorney performs many of the same duties as his civilian counterpart. The difference is that the attorney works for and with military personnel. Military legal personnel participate in court proceedings in courtrooms on military bases all across the globe.