Sexual Assault Trials are formally removed from the U.S. military chain of command to independent authorities.

Man in camo wearing handcuffs

For years and today, service members can file two distinct types of reports involving sexual assault: unrestricted or restricted. If they file an unrestricted report of sexual assault, they may decide to take part in a criminal investigation and then support actions taken to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable. If they file restricted reports confidentially and without triggering an investigation, they will still be able to reach out for any medical, legal, or advocacy services they may need. They may also have the option of submitting their information to the Catch a Serial Offender Program.

But what happens next is entirely new! Sexual assault cases in the U.S. military are no longer being tried under the authority of the service member's chain of command. A new system that places independent lawyers in charge of these prosecutions took effect in January 2024, marking a significant change to the way the Department of Defense tries those accused of an offense.

The new office, called the Offices of Special Trial Counsel, is responsible for new cases where formal complaints are substantiated. In addition to sexual assault and misconduct cases, the office will also be responsible for cases that involve murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, domestic violence, and child pornography.

The change aims to ensure decisions are not influenced by the inherent conflicts of interest and political pressures faced by commanders tasked with prosecuting members of their unit. Of course, by making these changes, the Department of Defense has created a system that favors bringing service members to trial. The change also establishes that prosecutorial decisions made by the special trial counsel are binding and are entirely independent of the military chain of command. Of course, this so-called ‘independence’ favors an alleged victim and disfavors a holistic view to justice.

The changes were prompted by the findings of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, which was created in early 2021 at the direction of the Secretary of Defense. The White House signed an executive order resulting in changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which became effective on December 27, 2023. It is notable that many of the changes were politically motivated and favored by politicians with little to no military experience.

Each service will have sexual assault response coordinators available to help when reaching out to attorneys and any other persons or agencies that could aid.

Call Joe Owens and Margaret Kurz at 888-570-4612 to discuss how these changes affect you.