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Friday, May 17, 2013

New McClatchy Article by Mike Doyle on Proposed Changes to Military Justice System - And My Comments on the Issue

Here is the latest article on proposed changes to the military justice system, and my comments on the issue.

I’m the civilian court-martial defense lawyer quoted in the article above.  For those of us who care about the fairness of the military justice system and the rights of the military members accused within it…

When lawmakers propose that JAGs make decisions in these cases instead of commanders, that begs the question “What end game is being sought by the suggested systemic changes?”  Do lawmakers really care who makes the decisions, or are they really just looking for those who will do what they want – namely, to ensure prosecutions, convictions, harsh sentences and no clemency in these cases?  The message from lawmakers vocal on this topic is very clear – the military justice system fails if cases alleging rape or sexual assault are dropped or result in acquittal (UCMJ Article 120).  Due process, systemic fairness and the presumption of innocence are casualties of this message.  

In the military justice system there is unrelenting external and internal pressure to sacrifice fairness, and the rights of military defendants, for a system governed by public relations pressure.  The focus seems to be increasing prosecution success at the expense of the constitutional principles and protections on which the military justice system was founded.  

It is sad and ironic that military members swear an oath to support and defend the constitution – which for them may mean taking life or sacrificing their own – but lawmakers want to chip away at the constitutional protections military members have within their military justice system.  

If the lawmakers are proposing these changes to increase prosecution statistics, because they believe JAGs will push for prosecutions and convictions more than commanders already do, then, once again, Congress is attempting to make the system less fair than it already is for those military members facing these allegations.  Changes shouldn’t be made to the system to ensure military prosecutors do Congress’ bidding regardless of the merits, or lack thereof, of individual cases.  If the system is put in the hands of the JAGs instead of commanders, what will happen if this doesn’t result in more "palatable" statistics?  

If the public could see inside the truth of the military justice system they would be shocked by the disparity between what actually occurs within the system as opposed to the messages being spread by those within Congress, the press and others with an agenda.  Why is it that few press outlets other than McClatchy are even covering the issue of the fairness of the military justice system for military defendants?  Why is it that in White House, Congressional, and DoD meetings and hearings on the topic, the voice of the defense is not invited and considered?  There are scores of stories and examples we could tell from the perspective of actually being involved in defending these military cases and court-martial trials that would present a much more balanced debate on this issue.  We could bring more perspective on what the alleged statistics (which are being so heavily relied upon) may actually mean or not mean.  How can a topic fairly be debated or addressed in the government or the military when all the invited participants agree on the basic premise that the system is failing, changes are needed, and those changes need to result in increased prosecution statistics?  

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, P.C.

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank J. Spinner and I (attorney Richard V. Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law and military justice. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens and The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation. These military defense law offices are located in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Southern New Jersey, but the military defense representation is worldwide – when necessary, the attorneys travel to wherever the client is stationed.

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