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In aftermath of general's trial, questions regarding pension

Interesting questions have come up in the wake of the Army’s decision to forcibly retire Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair next month for his allegedly inappropriate conduct engaged in with a subordinate officer.

The case against Sinclair -- an ex-commander of troops in Afghanistan -- centrally featured allegations of sexual assault. That charge never stuck, although the general subsequently pleaded guilty to lesser charges that included adultery.

In exchange for his plea, he was demoted to lieutenant colonel and will retire prematurely on August 1 with that rank. His military pension will remain intact, although it will be materially reduced from the amount he would have collected as a brigadier general.

The continuing pension is what has drawn the attention of many people, including congressional leaders and Army Secretary John M. McHugh. Some legislators have raised the idea that certain military members who are eligible for retirement benefits might be stripped of them if convicted of criminal charges.

McHugh says that such an action is not permitted under current military law, but that it could become an option if Congress drafted a new law.

Such a move would certainly raise many questions. One commentator on the matter says that entitling a commander to take away a pension if in his or her view a punishment was inadequately severe might be an overreach, spelling an undue concentration of power.

Additionally, a criminal charge has no logical connection with a pension, which is earned through many years of service. Arguably, stripping a military member of a pension following a conviction undermines the integrity of a criminal proceeding and ultimate outcome, if such a result can be tacked on as an ad hoc determination of a commander following a trial.

The repercussions of any disciplinary proceeding in the military can be significant and severe. Knowledgeable and aggressive representation from a proven military defense lawyer can help ensure that they are fair and that an accused person’s legal rights are fully protected.

Source: The Washington Times, "Military pensions could become targets in sex assault convictions," Jacqueline Klimas, July 2, 2014

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