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Court-martial sexual assault case hinges on consent

A military prosecuting attorney calls the U.S. Coast Guard member he is seeking to convict on charges of assault and rape a "man on a mission" to harm his alleged victim.

Conversely, that man's defense attorney in the court-martial trial currently under way in New Orleans says that the sex engaged in by the couple was purely consensual, with evidence supporting his client's innocence.

"She made a choice," the attorney told eight Coast Guard jurors yesterday during the trial's opening arguments.

The trial is a high-profile proceeding that is being conducted in the wake of what a recent media article calls "heavy political pressure" being placed on military officials to deal more harshly with reported sexual assaults.

That is a double-edged proposition calling for a strong measure of nuance and balance, given the corresponding rights of alleged assault victims and their accused attackers, respectively.

In the instant case, the prosecution states that the sex was forced and that the accused refused to stop when his victim demanded that he do so.

The defense paints quite a different picture, with uncontested evidence being presented that the alleged victim -- also a Coast Guard member -- asked the accused to go to another room and get a condom before the couple engaged in sex.

Consent will seemingly be a major issue at trial, with the defense also making note of that fact that the two parties had a longstanding relationship prior to the allegations the woman made to military authorities.

As we have noted in past blog posts, military law is no different from civilian law in that it is tasked with seeking justice and proceeding with fundamental fairness to both alleged victims and accused parties who -- until proven guilty -- must be adjudged as innocent.

A prosecutor's role in a court-martial or other criminal proceeding is clear. So, too, is that of an experienced military defense attorney, whose knowledgeable and impassioned defense of an accused military member can help ensure a level playing field and a fair verdict.

Source: The New Orleans Advocate, "Court-martial begins in alleged Coast Guard rape," John Simerman, April 15, 2014

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