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Update on military sexual assault: material developments occurring

Two military-related stories running in parallel fashion that are distinct yet intertwined are keeping criminal justice in the Armed Forces front-page news across much of the nation.

We have reported on both these high-profile matters for our readers in recent blog posts. We initially introduced the story concerning the courts-martial proceeding of Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair in a blog entry dated Feb. 26, 2014. And just last week, in a post dated March 7, 2014, we reported on material developments in a defeated Senate vote focusing on military sexual assault cases. We believe those posts adequately set forth relevant background information that summarizes those matters, which we update today.

Following last week’s narrow defeat in the Senate of would-be legislation aimed at circumscribing base commanders’ powers in sexual assault cases (most fundamentally, discretion over whether to prosecute or drop a case), events in Sinclair’s ongoing military trial took a dramatic departure.

The presiding military judge in Sinclair’s sexual assault trial summarily dismissed the jury pending a plea bargaining deal between the general’s defense team and military lawyers. Col. James Pohl stated that a number of emails he perused indicated that the military’s initial refusal to consider a plea agreement might have owed to political pressure, with the Army fearing repercussions if it dropped or mitigated the charges against Sinclair. Pohl is now postponing the trial, allowing prosecutors and defense attorneys to discuss a plea deal.

Sinclair’s attorneys clearly welcome the chance to do so, having consistently argued that there are fundamental weaknesses in the military’s case against their client and that outside pressure has indeed influenced the case thus far.

As for the defeated Senate bill, its temporary loss of traction doesn’t seem likely to derail further efforts to pass the legislation or a similar draft bill. Its sponsor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), says that she intends to reintroduce it, and companion legislation is currently under consideration in the House of Representatives.

Source: NPR, "Tumult over military sexual assaults far from over," Associated Press (AP writer Lolita C. Baldor contributing), March 12, 2014

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