Defense

March 15, 2013

Groups urge changes in courts-martial procedures

An Air Force general’s decision to reverse a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case is fueling support for legislation that would prevent commanding officers from overturning rulings made by judges and juries at courts-martial proceedings.

Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women’s Action Network told a Senate subcommittee March 13 that commanders are unable to make impartial decisions because they usually have a professional relationship with the accused and, often times, with the victim as well. She said court-martial cases should be left in the hands of “trained, professional, disinterested prosecutors.”

Under military law, a commander who convenes a court-martial is known as the convening authority and has the sole discretion to reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences or to reverse a jury’s verdict.

The hearing by the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee comes just days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review of the Air Force case after lawmakers expressed outrage over Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin’s decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

The subcommittee also is scrutinizing the military’s handling of sexual assault cases. Rebekah Havrilla, a former Army sergeant, told the panel that she encountered a “broken” military criminal justice system after she was raped by another service member while serving in Afghanistan. Havrilla described suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and how her case was eventually closed after senior commanders decided not to pursue charges.

“What we need is a military with a fair and impartial criminal justice system, one that is run by professional and legal experts, not unit commanders,” Havrilla said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the chairwoman of the military personnel subcommittee, called the Wilkerson case “shocking” and promised to take a hard look at the military justice system. Nearly 2,500 sexual violence cases in the military services were reported in 2011, but only 240 made it to trial, Gillibrand said.

Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, was found guilty on Nov. 2 by a jury of military officers on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. The victim was a civilian employee. Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.

Wilkerson was at the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., until Feb. 26 when Franklin exercised his discretion as the convening authority. Franklin, reviewed the case over a three-week period and concluded “that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hagel wrote in a March 7 letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

But Hagel told Boxer neither he nor the Air Force secretary is empowered to overrule Franklin, who is the commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Boxer said during testimony before the subcommittee that “immediate steps must be taken to prevent senior commanders from having the ability to unilaterally overturn a decision or sentence by a military court.”

In the wake of Franklin’s decision, Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Patrick Meehan, R-Penn., introduced legislation March 12 in the House of Representatives that would strip military commanders of the power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences. Their bill would amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to take away the power of a convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce legislation soon that would change the Uniform Code of Military Justice by preventing a convening authority from overturning a decision reached by a jury. The legislation also would require the convening authority to issue a written justification for any action.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 30, 2014

News: Software to power F-35 running as much as 14 months late - Software needed to operate Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, may be as much as 14 months late for required flight testing, according to a Pentagon review.   Business: Lockheed will turn on JLTV production line In August; 6-D truck...
 
 

News Briefs July 30, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,197 As of July 29, 2014, at least 2,197 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,819 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Tom Reynolds

F-35B successfully completes wet runway, crosswind testing

Lockheed Martin photograph by Tom Reynolds F-35B aircraft BF-4, piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Dan Levin, starts down the runway as part of wet runway and crosswind testing at Edwards AFB, Calif. In an important program ...
 

 
boeing-chinook

Boeing delivers first U.S. Army multiyear II configured Chinook

Boeing July 29 delivered the first multiyear II configured CH-47F Chinook helicopter to the U.S. Army one month ahead of schedule. The delivery was celebrated in a ceremony at the production facility in Ridley Township, Penn. ...
 
 
Army photograph by SSgt. Angela Stafford

Engineers developing safer, more accurate tracer round

Army photograph Tracer rounds enable the shooter to follow the projectile trajectory to make aiming corrections. However, the light emitted by these rounds also gives away the position of the shooter. Engineers at Picatinny Ars...
 
 
NASA photograph by Carla Thomas

Katherine Lott awarded NASA Armstrong employee scholarship

NASA photograph by Carla Thomas Katherine Lott, the recipient of the 2014 NASA Armstrong Employee Exchange Council Joseph R. Vensel Memorial Scholarship, is congratulated by NASA Armstrong center director David McBride. Flankin...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>