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Independent Lawyers Now In Charge Of Sexual Assault Cases From U.S. Military

Someone has to hold them accountable...

Independent lawyers are officially taking over the prosecution of sexual assault cases in the U.S. military.

Taking effect on Dec. 28, military commanders will hand sexual assault and other serious crime cases to legal organizations within each service called the Offices of Special Trial Counsel. The change marks a significant shift in how the Department of Defense tries members accused of an offense.

Each office will host special trial counsel that will have permission to prosecute several charges, including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, domestic violence, stalking, child pornography, and most sexual misconduct within the military.  Located around the world and across the United States, according to Associated Press, the Army will have 65 certified trial counsels, Air Force will host 40, the Marine Corps will have 33, and the Navy will have 24. Close to 10 more will potentially be certified by Summer 2024.

For years, Congress has been looking for ways to reform the rising number of sexual assaults throughout the armed forces. The Pentagon’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in The Military shows cases rose 13% in the Navy, 9% in the Air Force, and close to 4% in the Marine Crops. Cases in the Army dropped 9%, but there were still almost 9,000 reports of sexual assault throughout all points of the force. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the change a “landmark change to the U.S. military justice system.”

“It is the most important reform to our military justice system since the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950,” Austin said. “This reform aims to help strengthen accountability and increase all of our service members’ trust in the fairness and integrity of the military justice system.”

In 2023, President Joe Biden passed and signed legislation that strengthens protections for service members. However, some military leaders don’t think any good will come from the change. “While the military lawyers are ‘independent’ in the sense that they no longer are part of the accused or victim’s chain of command, instead working for civilian service secretaries, the entire military justice structure is one that lacks independence and impartiality and disserves service members,” president emerita of the National Institute of Military Justice, Rachel VanLandingham, said.

She said the majority of offenses in the military code, including disobedience, dereliction of duty, and insubordination, will continue to be handled by those in the chain of command who can no longer decide on a formal murder or rape charge.

Out of the 8,942 reported cases in 2022, 5,941 were unrestricted, needing the commander and law enforcement to be involved. A little over 3,000 were restricted, where the victim maintains confidentiality but declines investigation and potential prosecution.

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