Monday, February 1, 2016

Air Force Times Prints Names of Accused Airman Who Were Acquitted or Had Charges Dismissed

Thanks to "The Invisible War," a perception exists that the United States Military is in the middle of a rape epidemic.  Every other year since 2008, it seems that Congress is amending the UCMJ to ensure that those accused of sex offenses are brought to trial.  In fact, Senator Claire McCaskill has made it clear that she uses "a single yardstick to measure each idea on the table: will it better protect victims, and lead to more prosecutions[.]"

The Air Force Times often reports the name and rank of Airmen who are accused of a sex crime, as well as a brief synopsis of what the Airman is accused.  Then, after each Court-martial, the Air Force, as well as all US Services, releases on a monthly basis the results of their Courts-martial.  But, the Air Force does not release the names of the Airmen who were acquitted of all charges or who had charges dropped prior to their Court-martial.

Instinctively, I think this practice is good because protecting the identity of the accused who has been acquitted will allow an individual's identity to remain anonymous and not searchable.  However, this practice does nothing to expose how many of our Servicemen are being acquitted at Courts-martial, who have had their careers placed on hold, and who have faced a severe injustice by the fact that the case was tried.

When a Servicemember is acquitted at a Court-martial, a verbatim record of trial is not produced, as it is for convictions.  The Servicemember typically wants to move on in their career and not expose themselves to further scrutiny because they are trained to be quiet professionals.  So, the public is not bombarded with the number of our Servicemen who are falsely accused of crimes, the way the public is bombarded with the number of allegations of sexual assault.

Having been a civilian Court-martial defense practitioner for eight years and a Trial Defense Service Attorney with the Army for two years, I have seen the most ridiculous charges brought against Servicemembers.  In fact, some cases I've seen or heard about that are prosecuted by these so-called "Special Victim Prosecutors" lead to only one of two conclusions: (1) They don't believe the alleged victim, but are driven by politics like Mike Nifong; or (2) they do believe the alleged victim and are incompetent to practice law. I recently represented a client where the evidence of his innocence was overwhelming, the Article 32 Investigating Officer recommended a dismissal because the alleged victim was not credible, and the case still went to trial.  My client was fully acquitted, but nobody except for the military panel who acquitted him and those who viewed the trial from the gallery will ever know how absurd the fact that he even stood trial was.

So, perhaps it is high time that those Servicemembers who have faced the injustice of the military justice system and have been acquitted speak out, so the public better understands how politically driven Courts-martial have become.  And, by publishing the names of the acquitted, the Air Force Times might actually be doing a good thing.