The military justice system is plagued by conflict of interest, bias, and inefficiencies. Fundamental reform is needed in order for victims of sexual assault to see justice. This reform must start with removing “convening authority” (CA) from the chain of command and placing “disposition authority,” the power to decide whether to go forward to trial, with trained and competent military prosecutors.
The Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA)
The Military Justice Improvement Act achieves this reform through the following changes:
- Gives disposition authority to prosecutors in pay grade O-6 or higher, who will determine whether a case goes to court-martial.
- Creates separate offices for convening authorities under the Chiefs of Staff; requires the CA to be on O6 or above who is not in either the victim’s or the accused’s chain of command.
- Applies to serious crimes for which the authorized sentence under the UCMJ is confinement for more than one year, including sexual assault. Leaves convening authority for military and minor crimes with the commanders.
- Requires the prosecutors to have significant experience and be entirely independent from the chain of command of the accused.
- Addresses the “good military character defense” by prohibiting the accused’s character and military service from being considered when deciding whether to take a case to trial.
- Modifies the post-trial powers of convening authorities by prohibiting CAs from overturning a conviction or changing a guilty finding to a lesser-included offense.
The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act)
This legislation takes the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and places jurisdiction in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office.
The STOP Act achieves reform through the following changes:
- Establishes a Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office in the Department of Defense, which will work with various military investigative organizations to investigate cases of sexual assault. This office will:
- Ensure that victims are given safety, security, and a place to communicate their experiences
- Have the authority to reassign a victim to separate them from their assailant
- Create a new method of reporting sexual assault that takes it out of the hands of the normal chain of command
- Have the Military Criminal Investigative Organizations report directly to the Office
- Work with the different branches of the military to provide contact information for the Sexual Assault Grievance Board for offense reporting and written guidelines regarding who to contact including a direct telephone number.
- Establishes a Director of Military Prosecutions. The Director will have final and independent authority to oversee the prosecution of all sexual-related offenses.
- Creates a sexual assault database within the Department of Defense that will share information with the Department of Justice civilian sexual offender database.