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Military sexual assault cases to stay in commanders' hands

The mission of fighting sexual assault in the ranks of the U.S. military is destined to remain in the hands of commanders, at least for the immediate foreseeable future. Members of the U.S. Senate today failed to approve legislation that would have removed sexual assault and some other serious crime issues from unit commanders' disciplinary oversight.

Instead, lawmakers threw their support overwhelmingly to a plan that would keep commanders involved, but bar suspects charged with such violent crimes from using the so-called "good soldier" defense unless character is relevant as a key element of the alleged crime.

Another provision makes it possible for assault victims to challenge what is reportedly an all-too-common practice of their being discharged or separated from the service -- ostensibly for mental instability.

The measure is slated for a final Senate vote on Monday.

What effect these actions might have on the conduct of courts martial will become clear only over time. In the meantime, considering the effect that a conviction and other than honorable discharge may have on a person's future, those charged should seek representation from experienced legal counsel.

The issue of sexual assault in the military is one that has gained a lot of attention in the last few years. Officials at the Pentagon say that in 2012 alone, an estimated 26,000 service people were likely assault victims. Most, though, never came forward fearing nothing would be done or that they'd suffer retaliation.

No one seems to disagree that some changes are needed. But there's disagreement on what form it should take. Analysts say that Senate lawmakers showed today that they think commanders need to be kept involved in the process so that they can be held accountable for making improvements of military culture to stop sexual assaults.

Source: The Big Story, "Senate blocks change to military sex assault cases," Donna Cassata, March 6, 2014

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