Miller Denies Succumbing to Political Pressure in Sexual Assault Cases

Miller Denies Succumbing to Political Pressure in Sexual Assault Cases

In 2012, controversial allegations surfaced implicating three U.S. Naval Academy students. Specifically, the complaint alleged that three midshipmen – Josh Tate, Eric Graham and Tra'ves Bush – had sexually assaulted a female Naval Academy student at an off-campus party in Annapolis, where the Academy is located.

This past summer, the judge presiding over the case recommended to Vice Admiral Michael Miller – the U.S. Naval Academy's superintendent since 2010 – that the charges be dropped, citing 'lack of credibility' on the victim's part. Contrary to such advice, Miller, a 39-year Navy veteran, has recommended court martials for Tate and Graham, believing that there are reasonable grounds for both defendants' wrongdoing, although he did dismiss charges against Bush on account of weaker evidence. Miller has expressed interest in further examining evidence against the remaining two defendants, as he admittedly has not yet read all the evidence in the case's initial report.

In recent months, the White House and Pentagon have intensified their approach of sexual assault in the armed forces, urging military leadership to treat sexual assault allegations with greater care. President Obama himself delivered a speech at the Naval Academy earlier this year, calling for tougher handling of all sexual assault complaints. Miller denies that his recommending court martials for Tate and Graham is a direct result of such political pressure, asserting that his decision to press charges against Tate and Graham was preceded by careful review with others in the military justice system. Miller has also denied succumbing to pressure from his Naval superiors, emphasizing that he had total freedom in arriving at his decision to proceed with the courts martial.

Tate's defense attorneys, nonetheless, pressed Miller this past week for a direct explanation as to whether Obama's speech played a role in his treatment of this case, to which Miller responded, "The president was expressing, as he is entitled to do, his strong disagreement with sexual assault."

Miller's top legal adviser, Captain Bob O'Neill, also testified that he advised Miller to drop the charges against Tate and Graham, disclosing that this is the first time Miller has disregarded his recommendations in a criminal case.

In light of this, Tate's defense attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing in said motion that Miller has wielded "unlawful command influence" in that he has been overly selective in deciding which defendants to prosecute. Should the judge grant the defense's motion, the charges against Tate will be dismissed. The judge has already noted, however, that, as the "convening authority" in the case, Miller has discretion to recommend whether and how it proceeded even if some "may not like his decision."

The hearing's closing arguments will be heard on February 11.

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