DoD Special Trial Counsel Offices Become Fully Operational, Giving More Protection To Sexual Assault Victims
In a recent military initiative, it was confirmed that special victims units will now hold the sole responsibility for investigating sexual assault and other heinous crimes. This is a crucial turning point in the military justice system.
It states that under each military service, Offices of Special Trial Counsel will enable attorneys to prosecute and investigate cases of sexual crimes and other such cases, pulling them away from the control of the victims’ commanders.
Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin said, “This landmark change to the U.S. military justice system will significantly strengthen the independent prosecution of sexual assault and other serious criminal offenses in the Department of Defense. It is the most important reform to our military justice system since the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950.”
This year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to implement legislative procedures for the Uniform Code of Military Justice. According to this, service members who earlier had to take their assault claims to their commanders can now seek the professional support of independent prosecutors.
Last year, Austin signed a memo for the new special trial counsel offices. It emphasized that military department secretaries must ensure that offices are completely operational for each branch by December 27, 2023.
According to the memo, “the commander of any victim of an alleged covered offense and the commander of any accused in a case involving a covered offense will be given a reasonable opportunity to provide input to the special trial counsel regarding case disposition, but that input is not binding on the special trial counsel.”
Various offenses, including rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, kidnapping, and murder are covered here. Each special trial counsel is headed by a lead special trial counsel who serves a fixed three-year term, which is extendable.
If you are interested in understanding the legal implications, seek the professional guidance of a Denver sexual assault defense lawyer.
An example is the Navy, which has 47 attorneys in its office, 24 certified attorneys, and 23 co-chairs assisting the lead lawyers. In addition, the support staff in the office includes 26 civilians for paralegal and trial administrative roles and 17 sailors to aid in administrative tasks.
Yet another example is that of the Army, which has a total of 150 personnel, including 65 prosecutors and 57 paralegals. Besides, each field office will have a special victim liaison to offer support to the victims during the entire process.
According to a senior army official,” Before being certified each special trial counsel had to meet minimum experience and training requirements, including passing a specifically tailored certification course. We will evaluate cases on the merits and apply an expert legal analysis to determine which cases should go forward to trial, we will make these decisions based on the evidence and consideration of fairness for all involved in the military justice process. ”
The offices have long been built to operate to full capacity, so the senior leaders don’t anticipate cases flooding in. Their members have already been working on cases that took place before December 28. With the annual defense policy bill turned into law, they hold the right to exert right over the earlier offenses.
A senior army official says,” Our special trial counsel hasn’t just been…sitting at home waiting for Dec. 28 to hit before we start doing work. So, like the other services said, they’ve been working on these cases that are occurring before Dec. 28. So it there’s not going to be a sudden flood that comes in and overwhelms us. We’ve already been working on those cases.”
He added, “And that’s going to be a conversation on a case-by-case basis in terms of what cases we choose to exert authority over. Certainly, the more developed the cases, if it’s the day before trial, I wouldn’t anticipate that we would come in and pump the brakes on that and try and restart a process, but certainly those cases that are just being reported, or had just started in investigation. Those would be good candidates for us to exert authority over those cases that occurred or reported before Dec. 28.”
There is a strong conviction among senior officials that this step would increase trust in military service and enhance the personal readiness of the members.
According to Pentagon officials, a large number of sexual assault cases go unreported. Last year, around 8492 cases of sexual assault across military branches were reported; however, nearly 36,000 active-duty officers, both men and women, suffered sexual assault.