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Bill seeks to amend state's military law in sexual assault cases

Military law seeks justice for both alleged victims of crimes and those accused of committing them. The foundations of such law are centuries old, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) established by Congress that has been operative for many decades renders the application of justice consistent across all military branches.

We noted in our immediately preceding blog post (please see our January 20, 2014, entry), a recent change wrought by Congress that flatly diminishes the prospects for an accused to receive a fair military trial. Specifically, Congress has greatly expanded the right of alleged victims by allowing them, with some limitations imposed, to hear the testimony of all other witnesses. That allowance can sorely undermine fundamental fairness in any trial.

So, too, can a requirement that any alleged act of sexual assault by a military member be reported to civilian authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution.

That is precisely what a new bill in Iowa is proposing in instances where Iowa National Guard members allegedly commit sexual crimes when they are under state orders.

The Iowa legislation seeks to amend that state’s Code of Military Justice. Proponents of the change point out that it would not affect Iowa service members mobilized under federal law.

An Iowa National Guard official says that the legislation will be carefully scrutinized, noting the policies that are already in effect for handling sexual assault reports under both state and federal military law.

That official, a public affairs officer, questions whether the proposed legislation “might compromise the integrity and effectiveness of those policies,” which he notes are already “focused on providing appropriate support for the victim.”

The officer also cites a concern that the Iowa bill, if passed, could “significantly diverge” from the federal UCMJ, upon which Iowa’s state military law is based.

Source: Quad-City Times, "Legislation to require military sex assault cases to go to civilian authorities," Rod Boshart, Jan. 21, 2014

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