The closely-watched sexual assault case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair is coming to a close. As we've discussed, last week the presiding judge summarily dismissed the jury in favor of plea negotiations, and the case moved forward quickly this week to sentencing.
The details of Sinclair's plea bargain were unsealed on Thursday. In exchange for guilty pleas on lesser charges, prosecutors agreed that Sinclair would be sentenced to no more than 18 months in prison -- as opposed to the 20 years he potentially faced if convicted on the most serious charges. At sentencing, however, the judge was even more lenient.
Sinclair pled guilty to adultery, having inappropriate relationships with two women, improper use of his government-issued credit card and conduct unbecoming an officer, and the sexual assault charges were dropped. He was sentenced to a reprimand and a $20,000 dock in pay. The fine will cost the 51-year-old just over two months' pay, but he will serve no prison time. He also announced his immediate retirement.
His next step is an appearance before Fort Bragg's commander for either a written or oral reprimand. After that, a disciplinary board will determine whether he should lose any rank and benefits, which could mean a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.
Considering this high-profile case involved perhaps the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever to be court-martialed for sexual assault, the sentence is virtually guaranteed to spark controversy. Indeed, a former military judge who now teaches law at West Point told reporters "I can't believe it," even as he affirmed this particular judge to be "one of the best judges in the Army judicial system." The judge himself has offered no insight into how the sentence was determined.
As you may recall, however, questions had already arisen as to whether officials had been pressured to reject a previous plea deal for political reasons. Also, there was growing evidence of weaknesses in the government's case, which would have made a conviction challenging to obtain. Finally, both the defense and the general's estranged wife asked the court for leniency in order to avoid further harming the family.
Whatever your feelings about the military sexual assault scandals or the outcome in this particular case, it's important to remember that every defendant deserves the full protection of his or her rights and the chance to present the most effective court-martial defense.
Source: Marine Corps Times, "No jail time: Sinclair reprimanded, docked $20K," Jeffrey Collins and Michael Biesecker, Associated Press, March 20, 2014