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Friday, February 28, 2014

Civilian Court-Martial Defense Lawyers: The Air Force Pats Itself on the Back Regarding the Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) Program in Military Rape and Sexual Assault Court-Martial Cases (UCMJ Article 120)

Military Defense Lawyer (Former JAG Attorney) News:

As they have from the program’s inception, the Air Force continues to “pat itself on the back” regarding the creation of the Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) program.  SVCs appear on behalf of qualified alleged victims in military rape and sexual assault court-martial cases (UCMJ Article 120).  The latest articles from Stars and Stripes and appear here:

What the reporter, and the article, fail to do is to seek the other side of the story.  Not a surprise.  Are there still problems with regard to these government appointed SVC attorneys interfering with legally recognized discovery and evidentiary rights, rules, and law?  The answer is “yes”; there are still these problems – which directly impact the fairness of the military justice system and the rights of a military member accused of rape or sexual assault and facing the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of a court-martial trial. 

The comment I posted in response to the article was:

“With all due respect, this is a very one-sided article (more of a promotional article than a balanced account) that doesn't seek to discover the continuing problems caused by SVCs for the fairness of this criminal justice system - some of which were detailed, with specificity, in the USAF Trial Defense Division's appellate brief in the LRM case. The SVC program makes Air Force lawyers, in many instances, still act like non-lawyers. In other words, when discovery and evidentiary rules and case law are clear, we are still seeing SVCs cast that aside to advocate for the alleged victim's nonlegal objection, regardless of what the law says. While that might be appreciated by alleged victims, how are nonlegal arguments contrary to the law really considered to be "success?" It is also important to understand that all the LRM decision stood for was the narrow proposition that SVCs could speak to the court in a limited capacity on behalf of alleged victims. It did not rule on the substance of SVC actions/representation - such as being obstructionist with regard to witness interviews, discovery, etc. While I won't paint every SVC with a broad brush, because I have seen improvement and have dealt with SVCs who still understand the requirements of the law, there have been plenty of problems, that continue to this day, with regard to SVCs forgetting that they are still lawyers and, as lawyers, the procedural rules and law applies to them as well.”

What we see with this “rah rah” Air Force article is representative of the basic problem with the Air Force and military’s reaction to this issue of alleged rape and sexual assault in the military – they care more about scoring points in public perception (in the press, with Congress, etc.) than they do about Constitutional rights, fairness of the criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence, and due process.

I wonder how the politicians, government officials and military officials who are so proud of the changes to the military justice system, and so vocal on this issue, would feel if a child of theirs was facing an allegation of rape or sexual assault in the military?  Would they still be beating the drum that?:

- The accuser must be telling the truth.  No one lies about these allegations or misperceives events.

- The accused (my child) must be guilty.

- The accused (my child) doesn’t deserve a fair court-martial.

- The accused (my child) shouldn’t question the credibility, motives, or perception of the accuser.

- The accused (my child) shouldn’t “re-victimize” the accuser by asking for discovery and admission of contrary evidence.

- If the accused (my child) is not prosecuted, the military justice system has failed.

- If the accused (my child) is not convicted, the military justice system has failed.

- If the accused (my child) doesn’t receive a harsh sentence, the military justice system has failed.

- If the accused (my child) is granted clemency, the military justice system has failed.

And, lest we forgot, the accused is a member of the United States military.  Who swore to protect and uphold the Constitution through service and sacrifice, which could include taking life or losing his/her own life.  Shouldn’t they be entitled to the rights and protections of the Constitution they are willing to kill or die for?  Shouldn’t they be entitled to a fair military justice system? 

As I have said before regarding this issue:  It is a very sad chapter in the history of the military justice system.

For more information about the military justice system, particularly cases alleging rape and/or sexual assault in violation of UCMJ Article 120, type “rape” or “sexual assault” into the search bar above the blog posts and go to:

We offer free consultations for a military case you may be involved in.  Just call us.

Thank you.    

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 Northern Florida (Pensacola, Ft Walton, Destin, Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, Duke Field, Panama City, Tyndall AFB areas) and Colorado Springs, Colorado (FT Carson, Peterson AFB, Air Force Academy, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Buckley AFB areas), but our military defense law practices are worldwide – we travel to wherever our clients are stationed or serving and need us.

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