What Happens If You’re Accused of Sexual Assault in the Military?

Facing sexual assault accusations in the military is a profound situation with far-reaching consequences for your career, reputation, and personal life. Understanding the legal process, the potential punishments, and steps to defend yourself against such claims is crucial. Here’s what to expect if you’re accused of sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Understanding Sexual Assault in the Military

Article 120 of the UCMJ categorizes various forms of sexual misconduct, including rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, and abusive sexual contact. These definitions encompass a range of behaviors, from unwanted sexual contact to more severe forms of sexual violence, all of which carry significant penalties if convicted. The distinction between these categories lies in the nature of the conduct, the victim’s consent, and the circumstances surrounding the act.

How Sexual Assault Accusations Play Out in the Military

When a service member is accused of sexual assault, the military follows a structured process to initiate and handle the allegation. This process was updated in January 2024 to enhance fairness and trust in the military justice system. Here’s what reporting and prosecuting sexual assault in the military looks like now that these changes have taken effect:

  • Initial reporting: Sexual assault victims in the military may choose to make a restricted or unrestricted report. Restricted reporting allows for confidential access to medical care and support without initiating a formal investigation, while unrestricted reporting triggers an official investigation.
  • Notification of command and legal authorities: Under the new system, once an unrestricted report is made, the information is provided to the victim’s commander and the newly established Offices of Special Trial Counsel. This change aims to reduce potential conflicts of interest and ensure more impartial case management.
  • Investigation by military law enforcement: The initial steps following an unrestricted report remain the same, with military law enforcement agencies conducting thorough investigations to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and compile an incident report.
  • Referral to the Offices of Special Trial Counsel: Unlike the previous system where military commanders had the power to prosecute, the decision now lies with the Offices of Special Trial Counsel. These offices, staffed by independent lawyers, are tasked with evaluating the evidence and determining whether to proceed with prosecution. This reform insulates prosecution decisions from undue command influence and improves integrity in the military justice system.
  • Legal review and charges: If the Offices of Special Trial Counsel decide that the evidence warrants prosecution, they will formally charge the accused and move forward with the legal process.
  • Court-martial: If the accused is charged, the case goes to trial. The military’s version of a criminal trial is called a court-martial. Here, the accused can defend themselves against the allegations. The trial is conducted before a military judge and/or a jury of military members, known as a panel. If the service member is found guilty at the court-martial, sentencing will take place.
  • Post-trial actions: Both the defense and the prosecution can appeal the verdict or sentence if they believe an error occurred during the trial.

Can Military Sexual Assault Charges be Expunged?

The expungement rules for military sexual assault charges are complex. In general, they are not expungable, even if the case is dismissed or dropped. This is because the FBI and the Department of Defense maintain records of all military charges, regardless of the outcome. However, successful defense in the military justice system can prevent a criminal record for sexual assault, and defense attorneys may assist in discharge upgrades or corrections of military records to mitigate the charge’s impact.

Potential Consequences

Being convicted of sexual assault in the military carries severe and wide-ranging consequences. The maximum punishments that can be imposed include:

  • Dishonorable discharge, which effectively ends the service member’s military career and strips them of most veterans’ benefits
  • Forfeiture of all pay and allowances, resulting in devastating financial implications for the service member and their family
  • Confinement for up to 30 years
  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender upon release from confinement
  • Additional penalties depending on the circumstances of the case, including fines, mandatory counseling or rehabilitation, and restrictions on post-service employment opportunities

Defending Against Charges

Defending yourself against sexual assault charges in the military can be an uphill battle. Increased pressure to convict military sex criminals has reduced the focus on proving false allegations. Merely being accused of sexual assault can tarnish your reputation and affect you inside and outside the military for years to come.

Hiring a military law expert is the key to building a strong defense. Potential strategies may include:

  • Presenting evidence of an alibi
  • Proving a case of mistaken identity
  • Challenging the credibility of the evidence, accuser, or witnesses
  • Arguing that the alleged victim consented
  • Pleading not guilty by reason of insanity

Speak with Our Military Defense Attorney

If you’re facing sexual assault allegations in the military, the road ahead is fraught with challenges. But with a clear understanding of the process and the right legal support, it’s possible to get through this difficult time.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is ready to defend you. Leveraging his extensive experience as a former enlisted Soldier and Army JAG officer, Mr. Jordan offers a unique perspective and comprehensive defense strategies to service members across all branches of the military. Our track record of success in complex court-martial cases underscores our commitment to defending the rights of the accused. If you need guidance or representation, contact us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to discuss your case with Mr. Jordan.

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