Over the years, an increasing number of military sexual assault cases have been taken to trial. Additionally, due to new laws requiring that a more significant number of military sexual assault cases go to trial, as well as the institution of various rules and procedures that make it easier to convict the accused, commanding officers now face significant pressure to send every accusation of sexual assault to trial. This is still the case, even if these are word-of-mouth accusations, without any additional evidence. Despite these developments, it is essential to remember that your constitutional rights should always be defended—even if it appears that the ordeal isn’t intended to work in your favor.
The Military Takes Allegations Seriously
Many people misunderstand how differently military law works when compared to the US system. Much of the time, accusations of military sexual assault come with little to no viable evidence. Instead, these cases are based entirely on word of mouth—even so, these allegations are taken incredibly seriously by the United States military, whether there is any evidence that a crime was committed or not. Sadly, sometimes, the accused individual will still be prosecuted, despite a clear lack of evidence. The alleged victim’s word is sometimes enough. However, this isn’t how the system was meant to function.
There is a strong element of all or nothing in most military sexual assault cases. In essence, these cases rarely seem to have a middle ground verdict. Instead, the accused individual will either be fully convicted of the accusations leveled against them, or they will be deemed innocent of the crime. This is why having a skilled attorney who understands military law is so crucial. Finding the right one could make a huge difference in your future. If you choose to work with an experienced military-civilian sexual assault attorney, there is a far greater chance that you will see a favorable outcome to your case. Many accused individuals will be deemed guilty of the assault without a lawyer, with or without any evidence.
Even if you have been accused of military sexual assault as a civilian, it might still seem like the law isn’t on your side. That is why it’s so important to work with an attorney who understands the unique complexities of military sexual assault. Ideally, you should be hiring a lawyer who has extensive experience in military law, as well as personal experience serving in the United States military. This will provide them with the best possible understanding of cases such as yours, making the accusations far easier to fight.
If you are accused of military sexual assault in California, your best bet is to turn to Aaron Meyer Law. Not only is Meyer an experienced attorney with a winning track record,but he is also a former Marine Corps member. He was promoted to captain in 2008, before being honorably discharged from the military several years later, in 2014.
Avoiding a False Conviction of Military Sexual Assault
Being falsely accused of a sex crime is one of the most challenging legal situations that someone can face. Not only are you at risk of receiving harsh punishment and substantial prison time, but also, your reputation is on the line. Even before conviction, accusations of military sexual assault can quickly tarnish an individual’s reputation, changing how those around them see them—moreover, this can occur even when there is no evidence that a crime was committed. More often than not, this is a devastating experience for someone to face, especially if they aren’t even guilty of a crime.
Even if you are accused of military sexual assault, you still have the option to hire any civilian defense attorney. However, to sufficiently fight the false sexual assault conviction, your lawyer should have substantial experience working with military cases.
What Defenses Can I Use If I’ve Been Accused of a Sexual Assault While in the Military?
After being accused of a sex crime while in the military, one of the first factors you are likely considering is simple: How can I go about defending myself?
More importantly, how can you defend yourself successfully, in a way that leads to the charges being dropped? Again, there is more than one way that you can go about this, as you’ll soon learn from your attorney.
A common defense that you can use is to claim that the sexual act never occurred in the first place. This is different from claiming that consent was given, and the act was consensual—instead, you must convince the court that the act never even happened.
On that note, another common defense is to claim that consent was given during the sexual act and that it was not assault. Sometimes, this defense takes the form of a mistake of fact. This means that the accused individual had reasonably believed that consent was given, even if the accuser claims that it was not. Keep in mind that, for this kind of defense to succeed, it must be reasonable that you’d assume the act was consensual. Essentially, if another reasonable individual wouldn’t have come to the same conclusion as you when placed in your position, then the misunderstanding would not be deemed reasonable.
Although instances do exist where the accused individual can provide an alibi, this often isn’t the case. Nonetheless, if you can prove to the court that you weren’t present when the alleged sexual act occurred, this should be brought to attention. However, even if you do not have an alibi, always remember that the case is far from hopeless.
As your attorney defends your case, their primary objective will be to prove that there is insufficient evidence—and thus, it cannot be proven that the alleged assault occurred. However, if the accused individual admits that the sexual act did occur but claims that it was entirely consensual, their attorney will uncover and provide the facts proving that consent was given.
Further, your attorney will attempt to discredit the accuser wherever possible. This is often a critical action to take if you’d like to see a favorable outcome in your case. The investigation’s sufficiency can also be questioned, and the evidence can be challenged—if evidence even exists, in the first place. Again, much of the time, there will not be any hard evidence provided to the court. These cases are often based on word of mouth.
What Are the Consequences of a Military Sexual Assault Conviction?
As you are most likely aware, the consequences of being convicted of sexual assault—especially if you are a member of the military—are incredibly severe. Unfortunately, sexual assault cases are not taken lightly by the court, perhaps even to a fault—it is often possible for innocent individuals to be convicted of a crime, despite a lack of evidence.
As you enter your military career, you probably have a clear plan in mind. Much of the time, military members intend to serve for a minimum of 20 years. After that point, they hope to begin receiving a retirement paycheck, as well as medical benefits for their family and themselves. This can seem like a highly achievable vision of the future until an individual is accused of sexual assault. Once this accusation occurs, it can feel like all your plans are coming tumbling down.
To begin, if you don’t win your case, you will receive a federal conviction on your record—this will have an enormous impact on your life in the future, as this conviction will be viewable whenever you apply for a job, move to a new community, apply for clearances, and so on. Additionally, it will typically be required that you register as a sex offender. Suffering these consequences can take a permanent toll on your life, as you are reduced to a second-class citizen by those around you—even if you did not actually commit the assault.
If you end up being convicted of rape, you may be spending the rest of your life in prison. As a bare minimum, you will receive a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge from the military. However, the consequences are often much more severe than just that.
What Is a Military Court Martial?
If you are unfamiliar with the inner workings of the military justice system, then you might not be familiar with a court-martial. However, if you have been accused of military sexual assault, you must understand this procedure.
A court-martial is similar to a civilian trial; however, it is specific to military members accused of crimes. In particular, a court-martial typically occurs in cases of felonies and other serious criminal offenses. When a military member is accused of a less serious crime, they aren’t likely to face court-martial. Instead, they will face a non-judicial punishment (NJP). An NJP is also known as Article 15.
Courts-martial come in several potential forms, depending upon the crime. According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), three different kinds of courts-martial could be enacted. These are:
- Summary court-martial
- Special court-martial
- General court-martial
Each of these types of court-martial considers different kinds of felonies. In addition, each type varies in the makeup of its judge and jury and the particular punishments that may be issued.
Often, individuals accused of sex crimes in the military will be faced with a general court-martial. This is the most severe court-martial and generally leads to the direst punishments if the individual is convicted. A general court-martial is constructed of a minimum of five panel members and a military judge. If the accused individual requests, they may also be tried by just a military judge without the presence of a panel. Further, an enlisted member of the U.S. military can request that at least one-third of the panel consist of fellow enlisted personnel.
A general court-martial is considered to be a felony court. Therefore, as long as an individual is subject to UCMJ, they can face general court-martial, should they be accused of a severe crime. This means that anyone from enlisted members to midshipmen to officers and beyond could be sent to a general court-martial.
In a court-martial, the accused individual is entitled to receive a free military attorney. However, due to the inexperience of many of these attorneys, it isn’t the best route to take. Instead, you should hire a civilian lawyer with experience in the military justice system. This will provide you with the best possible chance of having the charges dropped due to a strong defense in a court-martial.
So long as the UCMJ does not bar a punishment, it’s acceptable for it to be issued if someone is convicted of a crime during a general court-martial. As such, these individuals typically receive some of the harshest possible sentences in military court.
What Is an Article 32 Hearing? How Will It Impact My Sexual Assault Case?
Before your case reaches general court-martial, you must first undergo an Article 32 hearing—the UCMJ requires this.
In the civilian grand jury system, a grand jury hearing is equivalent to an Article 32 hearing. Given the facts of the case, it must be determined whether the charges are reasonable before proceeding to court-martial.
First, you will have a preliminary hearing officer assigned to your case. This officer will typically be a Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps member or another type of legal professional. Additionally, they will not be from your unit—in fact, the officer assigned to your case might not be from your base or post altogether. The officer will be legally experienced, although they will not know a significant amount of information about you, before the Article 32 hearing. This allows them to provide the most objective outlook on the assault case before it reaches general court-martial.
The officer must examine the evidence as it is presented to them. Through this evidence, they will attempt to determine whether there is probable cause. Simply put, probable cause describes a reasonable belief that the sexual assault occurred. Further, this same officer will ensure that the military has jurisdiction over the charges against you. They will then be able to draft a comprehensive report of the situation based upon all the evidence they’ve examined.
Typically, the officer will spend between one and 10 days creating the report before your Article 32 hearing. Then, the report is given to the commanding general, who is also known as the general court-martial convening authority. The general will examine your case, including the available evidence. They will also look over the report that the officer composed.
Using the information they’ve been provided with, the general could decide to have the charges withdrawn and dismissed. However, this isn’t typically how the procedure goes. More often than not, the general will determine that the case should proceed to trial. During your Article 32 hearing, there will also be little opportunity for witness testimony—instead, all that will be considered is the investigation report provided to law enforcement, as well as a few additional documents.
In many ways, the Article 32 hearing is only a formality. This hearing will rarely have a significant impact on how your case proceeds, aside from having it sent to trial.
Will I Face Pre-Trial Confinement After Being Accused of Sexual Assault?
If you are arrested for a serious crime in the civilian world, you’ll likely be spending some time in jail following your arrest. However, you will have the ability to post bond, which will allow you to be released from jail until your trial. Posting a bond involves paying a large sum of money (sometimes even thousands of dollars), as this is believed to encourage individuals to show up to their trials. Otherwise, they risk losing this large sum of money.
In the military, on the other hand, the system looks quite a bit different. Bond and bail do not exist in the military justice system. So, if someone is arrested by the military, that individual will not be placed in prison with the opportunity to post bail.
Instead, it is acknowledged that the U.S. military is a force with a unique structure of discipline and its own systems in place. Military members are generally expected to show up to their trials, whether or not a financial incentive is put in place. Instead, those arrested in the military have several eyes on them at all times—this includes their command, their first sergeant, their supervisors, the prosecutors, and the defense counsel. Due to the extensive number of parties watching the situation, it would be nearly impossible for the accused individual to flee.
Even so, in some instances, pre-trial confinement is utilized. Whenever an accused individual faces pre-trial confinement, they will be placed in jail until the start of their trial. However, unlike in the civilian world, they do not have the option to post bail and be released.
Aside from the standard form of pre-trial confinement, those accused of sexual assault in the military might also face other forms of restriction. For instance, the accused may be restricted to their own base or post; they may also be restricted to their workplace and home, in some cases. In addition, they could be restricted to an area within a few miles of their installation. Until this type of restriction is lifted, the individual will be required to stay within the designated area.
How Should I React If I’m Questioned by a Military Member About the Sexual Assault Allegation?
Above all else, keep this in mind: You should never respond to questions about the accusation without your attorney first being present. In addition, you should always make sure to prepare yourself in advance before going into any questioning. Otherwise, you’re risking saying the wrong thing—when this occurs, you could be inadvertently damaging the strength of your case. It is surprisingly easy to slip up and make a statement that could further incriminate you or even to make a statement that leads to an arrest for another crime. Your military sexual assault attorney will ensure that this doesn’t occur—they understand exactly how to speak during questioning in a manner that won’t incriminate you.
Remember, when you are read your rights, you’re told that you have the right not to make a statement. Don’t ever be afraid to utilize the rights you are given in this or any other circumstance. Even if you believe making a statement will help better contextualize the situation or help get you out of trouble, you should still be wary. As long as your attorney isn’t present, try to avoid saying anything about the accusations, even if you’re confident that it will aid your case—this could quickly backfire on you and isn’t worth the risk.
If you decide to make a statement about the accusations without your attorney present, it’s always possible that this statement will later be used against you. For example, it could be used against you in court or used against you during administrative actions.
Can PTSD From Combat Trauma Be Used As a Sexual Assault Defense in Court?
While using PTSD generally isn’t a defense that can have you absolved of all wrongdoing, it could still be worthwhile to present to the court.
Even if a diagnosis of PTSD from combat trauma typically won’t lead to you being deemed innocent, it can still lessen the punishment you receive. This is even applicable in instances of military sexual assault.
If you want to use any mental health condition in the findings portion of your trial, don’t expect it to trigger a not guilty verdict. In general, for an event such as that to occur, the mental health condition would have to be more adjacent to insanity. For example, in instances of insanity, the accused individual might not be able to grasp the court-martial process, making it so that they cannot meaningfully participate in their own defense. Or this argument could demonstrate that when they committed the assault, the accused individual lacked the mental capacity to understand that they were doing something wrong.
A diagnosis of PTSD from combat trauma will rarely demonstrate to the court that you could not understand your own wrongdoing. In nearly all cases of PTSD, the diagnosed person doesn’t lose their ability to comprehend wrongfulness and act accordingly. Thus, this isn’t a strong defense if you are looking to receive a verdict of not guilty.
If I’m Under Investigation for Military Sexual Assault, Should I Go to My Command to Explain the Situation?
After receiving an accusation of sexual assault in the military, it can be complicated knowing where to turn first. In some instances, the accused individual’s first instinct might be to turn to their command. They may be tempted to explain and contextualize the situation to demonstrate their innocence. Or, maybe, you’re hoping that your command can provide you with advice so that you know how to proceed. Ultimately, you are probably hoping that they will come to your aid in some way.
Still, is this generally a good idea? Should you be going to your command if you’d like to explain the situation leading to this accusation?
As we stated earlier, it is entirely true that you have the right to remain silent. However, you are never obligated to discuss the situation with anyone. Whenever you issue a statement about the accusations, you risk your words being used against you in court. This is even the case when you opt to speak with your command. If you decide against speaking to investigators or your command about the accusations, this can’t legally be construed as an admission or indication of guilt.
Before you speak with anyone about the sexual assault accusations you face, you’ll first need to consult your attorney. Even if you believe that your command can be trusted, it still isn’t wise to make any statements to them without having your lawyer present.
In addition, you should keep in mind that at this early stage of the investigation, it’s unlikely that you have a clear picture of what accusations you’re facing. If you don’t understand the nature of these allegations, you don’t have a clear idea of the evidence being used against you.
Although you might feel as if you have a firm handle on the situation and know what’s going on and being said, this often isn’t the case. There is always a chance that investigators or your command possess different information entirely. This could mean that they have more information than you’d expect, or it could mean that they have less information. Unfortunately, there’s no way for you to know which one is the case.
Thus, you could be inadvertently providing your command with more information than they already have. This could open up entirely new avenues in the investigation, which will almost always be damaging to your case. Also, if you give your command any information that contradicts information they already have, this could lead to additional issues. For example, they might interpret this as you giving them a false statement, which will reflect poorly on your end of the case.
As a whole, while it’s ultimately up to you whether you speak with your command, it’s essential to be wary. Understand that there is always a probability that the situation could backfire, even if you trust or feel comfortable with your command. Therefore, carefully consider all statements before you issue them, and make sure to discuss them with your attorney first.
Can a Military Conviction for Sexual Assault Charges Be Appealed?
Fortunately, even if you have already been convicted of military sexual assault, there is still the possibility that the conviction could be appealed.
Due to the nature of your case, you’re likely to receive an automatic appeal. For example, suppose you receive a punitive discharge from the military. In that case, this automatic appeal will be issued—and, in most instances of military sexual assault, a punitive discharge will be a consequence. You can pursue this automatic appeal in the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. Nonetheless, you can decide to appeal your conviction at any point.
If you’re interested in pursuing an appeal of your conviction, make sure to speak to a military sexual assault attorney. They will be able to gather the necessary evidence and guide you through the appellate process.
In general, if you were convicted of a sex crime in the military, the appeals process will take 18to 36 months to complete. It can be a lengthy process, so it’s important to remain patient throughout it all. The federal government needs enough time to finalize the exhibits and transcript from your trial before providing this information to whichever general was involved in your court-martial. It will also take your attorney some time to gather the necessary information and evidence to make a successful appeal more probable.
Work With a Top Military Civilian Sexual Assault Attorney
If you have been accused of a sex crime in the military, you likely feel that you’ve been sent into a tailspin. Accusations of this nature can be brutal because even without sufficient evidence, they can take a significant toll on your life and reputation. To effectively fight a military sexual assault charge, you must work with an experienced military-civilian attorney. Whenever you hire a skilled lawyer, you are substantially increasing the likelihood that the charges will be dropped. However, without the aid of an attorney, conviction is considerably more likely to occur—and this can come with an array of severe consequences, many of which are life-altering.
Are you currently searching for a military-civilian sexual assault lawyer in California? Find one who will fight for you. Aaron Meyer has built his career project on protecting those who serve our country. He doesn’t let service members become causalities of politically motivated prosecutions.