Over the last several years, the United States military has faced sharp criticism from victims' rights advocacy groups and increased inquiries from federal lawmakers over its handling of sexual assault cases.
In fact, acting Defense Department General Counsel Robert Taylor, the Pentagon's head attorney, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel just last month to discuss whether enough was being done to keep our men and women in uniform safe.
Here, he testified that the DOD is determined to end sexual assault in the military, and that it is currently taking steps toward introducing significant change in the administration of military justice.
Specifically, Taylor indicated that the DOD's General Counsel Office has convened an independent panel to conduct a comprehensive review to determine whether there is a need for real reform in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual assault cases in the military.
"[The goal of the review] to make our judicial, investigative and support structures more efficient, effective and responsive to the rights and needs of victims, while preserving the rights of the accused," he said.
One of the issues that the panel is sure to examine, and provide feedback on to both Congress and the Secretary of Defense is the role played by commanders in the administration of justice among the ranks.
Specifically, under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, commanders can dismiss jury verdicts without challenge. Most recently, the issue came up in the case of an Air Force lieutenant colonel whose conviction for sexual assault was thrown out by his commanding officer, a lieutenant general. This action caused outrage among victims' advocates and major concerns on Capitol Hill.
Taylor indicated in his testimony before the subcommittee that while Congress has taken steps to ensure that military commanders play a vital role in the military justice system, this does not mean that this role cannot be narrowed or redefined if necessary.
Above all else, Taylor indicated that the DOD-convened panel will proceed both cautiously and thoughtfully in its examination, and that the necessary steps will be taken to make the military safer.
"Our men and women in uniform serve to protect us every day," he said. "They put their lives on the line for us, for this great country of ours. We owe them a military in which sexual predators have no part and sexual assault has no place."
Whether you have been charged or are currently under investigation for a sex crime, be certain to contact an experienced legal professional to help protect your rights.
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This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
U.S. Department of Defense, "DOD examines UCMJ changes to combat sexual assaults," Jim Garamone, March 14, 2013