Representatives Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), Bruce Braley (D-IA), and Patrick Meehan (R-PA) today introduced the bipartisan Military Judicial Reform Act, HR 1079, to strip military commanders of the unilateral power to overturn convictions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. The bill comes on the heels of a Lieutenant General at Aviano Air Base overturning the sexual assault conviction of an airman who had been sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal by a jury of his peers.
"It is time to right an egregious wrong in our military justice system. The fact that one person can overturn a punishment determined by a judge or jury flies in the face of justice. We need a military justice system for the 21st century. The one we have now is primitive and is reminiscent of a time when punishments were decided by an autocrat, not by a judge or jury," said Speier who held a press conference earlier today to announce introduction of the Military Judicial Reform Act.
"The military justice system is rigged in favor of the assailant and nowhere is this more obvious than in rape and sexual assault cases," said Speier.
While there are an estimated 19,000 incidents of rape or sexual assault in the military each year, only 12.8% of victims ever report the crimes. Of those reports, 20% are referred to a court martial by a commanding officer; very few cases, less than 8%, result in conviction.
"By stripping commanders of the power to overrule judge and jury, victims will have a better chance at getting the justice they deserve," said Speier.
Congressman Braley, who also spoke at the press conference said, "Sexual assault in the military is a persistent problem that hasn't gone away and the military has resisted making the changes necessary to eliminate it from the ranks. Victims of these terrible crimes deserve the same protection they would receive if they were civilians. There should be no sheltering of violent criminals just because they happen to be subject to military rules and regulations."
The Military Judicial Reform Act amends Article 60 and Article 63 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to take away the power of the convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.
Nancy Parrish of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders read a statement from the victim in the Aviano case at the press conference. The statement is available on Congresswoman Speier's website.
Congresswoman Speier will soon reintroduce her bill the STOP Act to create an impartial office within the military to handle cases of rape and sexual assault outside of the chain of command.