Active-duty servicemembers’ lives are wrapped up in the military. Many live, work, and sleep in federal military bases or other government assignments. But serving in the military doesn’t mean that criminal charges don’t happen. Now 2019 is bringing a host of new military crimes and changes to the court martial system that will affect the way servicemembers receive justice and Due Process under the law.
This blog post will explain the new military crimes and definitions included in the Military Justice Act of 2016, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, and Executive Order 13825 signed March 3, 2018. It will also summarize the new military crimes and explain how the new laws will affect court martial proceedings for criminal offenses.
The wheel of military justice turns slowly. While legislatures frequently amend civilian criminal law to add charges or tweak definitions, what counts as a military crime has remained mostly unchanged since World War II, with some exceptions such as sex offenses. But as of January 1, 2019, after nearly three years of deliberations, rule-making, and JAG training, the new military crimes are now in effect. And that means big changes for the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
New Military Crimes
In 2016, Congress passed a law making the biggest changes to the Uniform Code of Military justice in decades. Then, the National Defense Authorization Act affected military justice even further. As of January 1, 2019, both these laws are now in full effect. That means active-duty servicemembers need to know about these new military crimes:
New Military Crime of Domestic Violence
Until now, there was no stand-alone charge of domestic violence for servicemembers or citizens in Colorado. Military law did not cover the issue of intimate-partner violence and in Colorado, domestic violence augments other charges like assault or stalking.
Now, there is a new military crime of domestic violence, which makes it a court-martial offense to commit or threaten a violent act against a person’s spouse, intimate partner, or his or her immediate family member. This also includes damaging his or her property or pet as a way of intimidating him or her, or violating a protective order. The law has also adjusted the definitions of sexual assault and sexual harassment to make it clearer when a military crime has been committed.
Broader Definitions of Existing Military Crimes
The new military crimes laws also expanded the definition of several crimes.
- Adultery now includes any “extra-marital sexual conduct”, not just intercourse, and includes same-sex affairs. (However, the law also allows defendants to use legal separation as a defense.)
- Burglary used to be limited to entering homes at night, but now applies to any building or structure at any time with the intent to commit a military crime inside.
- Aggravated Assault now includes strangulation and suffocation.
New Military Computer Crimes
The UCMJ hadn’t seen significant changes since 1984, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the law needed an update when it came to computer crimes. The law now includes new military crimes for:
- Wrongfully accessing unauthorized information on government computers (hacking)
- Distributing electronic classified information
- Fraudulent use of credit cards or identity theft
New Protections for Servicemembers
The UCMJ has also added crimes designed to protect servicemembers operating within military systems.
- Officers and NCOs in “positions of special trust” such as recruiters or drill sergeants face stiffer penalties for abusing their authority and engaging in sexual activities with junior personnel.
- Anyone who retaliates against a person for reporting or participating in the investigation of criminal behavior is now guilty of a new military crime of retaliation.
- Stolen valor penalties for wearing unauthorized medals of valor have also increased.
Changes to Courts Martial
In addition to adding new military crimes, 2019 is bringing changes to the way courts martial operate. These changes will cause military courts to behave much more like civilian courts, and could provide opportunities to active-duty servicemembers accused of these new military crimes.
First, the laws now allow non-capital offenses other than rape or sexual assault to be conducted as a “bench trial” before a single judge, rather than a general court-martial. If convicted, a servicemember appearing in a bench trial faces a maximum sentence of 6 months forfeiture of pay and six months confinement, as well as a reduction in rank. The accused cannot be given a punitive discharge. If the offense has a sentence of more than two years, the accused can request a special or general court-martial instead.
Next, courts-martial will be able to issue investigative subpoenas earlier in the process. This will allow attorneys on both sides to gather and exchange evidence earlier, sometimes even before charges are issued. It will also allow those defending against new military charges more access to the evidence against them.
Finally, when entering plea agreements, commanders will now have the authority to set both minimum and maximum sentences. Judges will then have the final authority to set a penalty within that range. This procedural change actually works against those charged with new military crimes. However, it does allow for more predictable sentences, so servicemembers know what to expect before the decide to enter a plea.
The revisions to the UCMJ include many other adjustments, procedural changes, and a few other new military crimes. For servicemembers in Colorado and across the country, these new laws make it more likely that a poor decision on a military base could have serious consequences for their military careers.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorney is a veteran himself. We know how to address new military crimes and court-martial concerns service-members facing criminal charges both on a military base and off. We are here to serve you and will see you through the civilian criminal court process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.