Angry Law Officials Working Towards Military Law Reform

Angry Law Officials Working Towards Military Law Reform

In Washington, DC there was a recent uproar in a case concerning the right of Air Force officers to overturn court verdicts in criminal defense cases. There have been efforts made by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to change the rules in the military justice system and now both Republican and Democrat lawmakers are on board and wish to overturn decades of what has been Uniform Code of Military Justice. These lawmakers feel that by stripping the rights that commanding officers have when it comes to reversing the criminal convictions of military service members, they can eliminate the high frequency of sexual assault and other crimes committed while in the service.

This recent case was regarding a sexual assault charge, which is a sensitive area for Congress as they believe that the military is not taking the proper precautions to end sexual assault within the ranks. In 2011, there were 3,192 reported cases of sexual assault in the military. This number however, should be closer to 19,000 because very few sexual assault victims actually come forward according to Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel believes that the current system at hand is detrimental and that commanding officers should not be permitted to reverse a court martial ruling when dealing with major criminal offenses.

One case in particular has started uproar in Congress and that is the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson who served in Italy as an inspector general at Aviano Air Base. He was charged with abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and also had three charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer against him. Inspector general Wilkerson was found guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison and was also discharged from the military service. His commander Craig Franklin however, worked to overturn the guilty verdict against Wilkerson involving the assault with a female service member. Franklin wrote a letter to the Air Force secretary saying that he believed Wilkerson to be a more credible source than the alleged victim. With this power to overturn a verdict, many sexual assault victims now feel that their testimony is invalid and they feel to be perceived as dishonest and promiscuous.

Congress lawmakers are looking to draft this reform and complete the bills by June of this year. The main goal of the new legislation will be to completely strip commanding officers of their ability to overturn or toss a verdict. This new reform will be implemented not only in all sexual assault cases but in other violent crime cases as well. Congress will be in collaboration with the people at the Pentagon in order to ensure that the legislation is drafted properly so that the power of commanding officers can be limited and so sexual assault convictions cannot be overturned.

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