City Bar Supports Military Justice Improvement Act

The New York City Bar Association urges passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S.1752 (“MJIA”), which would put legal decisions in the hands of experienced prosecutors, independent from the chain of command, for serious crimes that are not uniquely military in nature. According to a report drafted by the Association’s Committees on Sex & Law and Military Affairs & Justice, this much needed bipartisan amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to change the designation of key decision-making authority for courts martial, “offers an opportunity to modernize our military justice system and address the epidemic of sexual assault in our military.” Moreover, notes the report, this measure would put the United States military in step with the military justice systems of other democracies that share a common law tradition, most of which have “revamped their military justice systems and removed the disposition of certain crimes outside of the chain of command to be handled independently by trained prosecutors or commissions.” The report continues, “[t]here is widespread agreement that legitimacy is an essential feature of any system of criminal justice. When the criminal process is perceived as fair and legitimate, its decisions are more likely to be accepted as accurate. Many sexual assault survivors cite a lack of confidence in the military justice system—concern that no conviction or even formal prosecution will result and fear of reprisals.” In May 2013, the Department of Defense estimated that there were 26,000 service members who experienced sexual assault, a 37% increase from FY 2010. However, only 3,374 sexual assaults were reported in FY 2012. As the Committees state, “we believe that the visibly professional approach proposed in the MJIA would strengthen confidence in the military justice system and encourage more sexual assault survivors to report.” Ultimately, by placing authority to prosecute and make other key decisions for serious, non-military crimes in the hands of military prosecutors rather than the chain of command, the report concludes, “the MJIA would improve the perceived fairness of courts-martial and ensure justice and accountability.” The report may be read here: