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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Constant Spread of Misinformation in Military Rape and Sexual Assault Cases (UCMJ Article 120) - A Court-Martial Tale

In the incessant public and political debate about how rape and sexual assault allegations (UCMJ Article 120) are handled in the military justice system, the media often spreads misinformation as if it's truth.  That media includes civilian and military media.  While this misinformation makes for intriguing stories that fuel the passions of the public, and is often used as fodder for ill-informed politicians, the truth gets trampled in the process. 

Here is an Article published in a July issue of the Whiteman (AFB) Warrior newspaper.  It was written by a complainant in a military rape trial I successfully defended (that did not occur at Whiteman AFB, despite the story being published in their base paper).  The link will take you to the article, which appears at the top of the first page after the cover.  It is:

“Zero control: Through the eyes of a rape survivor”

Below is the text of a rebuttal article I was unsuccessful in getting published to respond to her article:


Particularly over the last few years, I have watched as misinformation about rape and sexual assault cases in the military justice system has been spread by lawmakers and military leaders, and published by the media, as if the information was true and accurate – and the recently published article by Lt L.F. about the sexual assault court-martial in which she was the complainant is just one more example of misinformation being published as if it’s true and accurate.  I was the defense counsel in that case, so I can speak directly about her claims.  I am also a former USAF JAG attorney, who has female family and friends serving in the Air Force today. 

At the outset, before I specifically respond to Lt L.F.’s article, it is important to understand that as long as misinformation is spread and accepted as “gospel,” the perception of the unfairness of the military justice system will grow and this could ultimately lead to the military losing its system of military justice in whole, or in large part.   That is why more military leaders and JAGs need to speak out about the actual truth regarding the military justice system’s handling of rape and sexual assault allegations.   

In her article, Lt L.F. claims “Our legal process is slanted toward letting the accused go free…” and “…any attempt for justice will be challenging because the cards are stacked in favor of the accused” and “I truly don’t think any jury wants to convict.  Convicting would mean they have to make a decision that puts someone in jail and tarnishes the accused’s career forever.”  These comments are not only inaccurate; they are brazenly dismissive of the court members and the process.  She emphasizes this by claiming the members’ not guilty verdict was due to some sort of “fancy tap dancing” by the defense. 

The court members in the case involving Lt L.F. were principled Air Force officers who listened carefully to the testimony and considered the evidence and arguments throughout the case.  Their verdict was not a surprise.  It would have been a surprise, and a cruel injustice, for the verdict to have been guilty.  What Lt L.F. failed to mention in her article is that considerable evidence and testimony was presented at trial that not only contradicted her story, but addressed what the witnesses described as her history of credibility issues.  The story she told a medical provider contradicted her testimony.  Friends and coworkers took the stand and contradicted her testimony.  A close member of her family took the stand and contradicted her testimony.  And, most notably, Lt L.F. made her claims about the night at issue before knowing there would be security camera video from the bar where the events at issue began.  That surveillance video contradicted her story.  There was no “fancy tap dancing.”  The court members made a conscientious and correct decision based on the evidence and the testimony in the case. 

Contrary to manipulated public perception, the Air Force takes sexual assault allegations very seriously and expends considerable effort and resources to accommodate those who claim sexual assault and to prosecute their claims.  This includes the involvement of SARCs, Victim Advocates, Victim Witness Liaisons, Special Victims’ Counsel, prosecutors, law enforcement, commanders, and conducting sexual assault briefings and programs with mandatory attendance.  The government has at its disposal as many prosecutors and paralegals as they need to devote to the case, including specially trained senior prosecutors, and resources such as SFS, AFOSI, forensic experts and sole control of the money spent on each case.  While the accused is publicly named, the complainant is not.  With surprising frequency, the military branches take jurisdiction over cases that civilian prosecutors aren’t interested in and/or have already refused to prosecute. 

With regard to trial itself, the defense is not permitted to ask any questions we want to or to dig into someone’s life to try to get them to “give up.”  There are rules against that which are scrupulously adhered to and enforced by the Military Judge.  The defense has to formally request permission to ask certain types of questions, and the Military Judge rules on these requests in closed motion hearings to protect the complainant.  The questions that were asked of Lt L.F. at trial were done so based on prior rulings by the Military Judge.  There was never any interview questioning of Lt L.F. by defense counsel alone.  There were always members of the process in attendance from both sides.  It should also be noted that Lt L.F. not only complained about the defense, she complained about her original female prosecution team as well. The lead female prosecutor at the time was, and is, a highly regarded field grade Air Force officer.   

All attorneys in the case conducted themselves professionally, and there was no post trial feedback from the Military Judge, court members, legal office or participating attorneys that any unprofessional behavior occurred in the case.  Given her apparent motives, it is not surprising that Lt L.F. now makes these claims about the case.  What is surprising is that she was able to get her views published and, without a rebuttal, they could have been accepted as the truth.  The military justice system is under a constant barrage of criticism by those with an agenda.  It’s time for more truth telling.  


While that military court-martial case was successfully defended, it is important to understand that every case has different facts, and success in previous cases does not guarantee success in any particular future case.  No military lawyer or civilian defense lawyer, including those who specialize in military law, can guarantee the outcome of any military trial or case.

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.  We also offer free initial consultations for a 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 Colorado Springs, Colorado and Northern Florida, but the military defense representation is worldwide – when necessary, the attorneys travel to wherever the client is stationed.

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