Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today signed on as a cosponsor to a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to increase accountability within the military justice system.
“Our service members voluntarily put their lives on the line to defend our country. It is unacceptable that the military has not changed the culture that perpetuates these acts of sexual violence or taken administrative steps to end this epidemic of sexual assaults,” Bennet said. “This bill, in addition to the provisions already included in the Defense Authorization bill passed by the Armed Services Committee, are some actions we can take to increase accountability and ensure that our service members have the protections they deserve. We’ll continue to work to get to the bottom of this crisis and better protect our military men and women.”
The Military Justice Improvement Act is cosponsored by 36 Republicans and Democrats. It would remove the decision whether to take a case to special or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced military prosecutors for all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL.
The bill would also:
- Codify Secretary Hagel’s proposed changes to the UCMJ’s Article 60 so that the convening authority may not (a) set aside a guilty finding or (b) change a finding of guilty to a lesser included offense. The legislation further alters Article 60 to require the convening authority to prepare a written justification for any changes made to court-martial sentences.
- Provide the offices of the military chiefs of staff with the authority and discretion to establish courts, empanel juries and choose judges to hear cases (i.e. convening authority).
- This legislation does not amend Article 15. Commanding officers will still be able to order non-judicial punishment for offenses not directed to trial by the prosecutors.