Congressman Mike Turner (OH-10) and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-3), Co-Chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, have introduced the Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013 (BE SAFE) Act. This legislation continues the lawmakers’ bipartisan effort to combat the issue of sexual assault in the military. Previously, they co-authored the STRONG Act and were successful in getting many of its provisions passed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in recent years.
Specifically, this bill takes on the convening authority’s unfettered discretion and authority under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by removing the convening authority’s ability to change or dismiss an adjudged court-martial conviction for any charge or specification except in the case of minor offenses. It also limits the convening authority’s discretion to commute or lessen the adjudged sentence determinations of a military court-martial.
“Since taking on this issue over 7 years ago, I have grown more troubled by the military’s resistance to change its culture. With the unilateral decision by Lt. Gen. Franklin to overturn a sexual assault conviction and rob a victim of justice, it was clear further legislative action was needed. This issue and many others remain to be resolved. However, only so much can be done by Congress. It is up to the military and its leadership to come to the realization that this is not an issue of bad behavior, but that it is a crime,” said Turner
In addition, the BE SAFE Act requires that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge. The bill also builds upon Turner and Tsongas’ efforts to take care of the victim and instill confidence in the system by eliminating the five-year statute of limitations on trial by Court-Martial for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child, and expanding the legal assistance services available to military sexual assault victims.
“The disturbing prevalence of sexual assault in the military undermines the trust and shatters the confidence needed for a military unit to succeed. In recent months we have seen reports rise, commanders and supervisors abuse their authority, and an officer in charge of prevention efforts allegedly commit the crimes he swore to stop. This is clearly a systemic problem and accountability is needed at every level, from everyone – officer and enlisted alike. This legislation will take steps to correct some of the recent alarming issues that have arisen due to failures of the military justice system. It will also continue our push to provide victims of sexual assault access to legal counsel, which is a critical step in the process of creating an environment that encourages victims to report these crimes and in bringing those responsible to justice. This legislation is one step, and I am committed to continuing to work with Congressman Turner and our colleagues in Congress on this critical national security issue,” said Tsongas.
NOTE: A section by section breakdown follows below.
Section 1: Short Title and Table of Contents
Section 2: Limitations on Convening Authority Discretion Regarding Court-Martial Findings and Sentence
· Removes the convening authority’s ability to change or dismiss an adjudged court-martial conviction for any charge or specification except for a charge or specification for a minor offense.
· Limits the convening authority’s discretion to modify or lessen an adjudged sentence.
· Requires the convening authority to provide a detailed written explanation for any decision disapproving, commuting, or suspending an adjudged court-martial conviction or sentence for any charge or specification.
Section 3: Mandatory Discharge or Dismissal for Certain Sex-Related Offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Trial of Such Offenses by General Courts-Martial
· Requires that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge.
· Establishes that if court-martial is warranted, only general courts-martial have jurisdiction over an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses.
Section 4: Elimination of Five-Year Statute of Limitations on Trial By Court-Martial for
Additional Offenses Involving Sex-Related Crimes
· Eliminates five-year statute of limitations on Trial by Courts-Martial for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child, pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 920 (b) and 920b (b) (Articles 120 (b) and 120b (b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Section 5: Consideration of Need For, and Authority to Provide For, Temporary Administrative Reassignment or Removal of a Member on Active Duty Who is Accused of Committing a Sexual Assault or Related Offense
· Affirms commanders’ authority to consider the need for and provide for the temporary administrative reassignment or removal of a member on active duty who is accused of committing a sexual assault or other sex-related offense from a position of authority or assignment.
Section 6: Victims’ Counsel For Victims of Sex-Related Offenses and Related Provisions
· Creates 10 USC 1044e to establish the authority for military legal counsel to provide legal assistance services to victims of sex-related offenses.
· Requires enhanced training for all military and civilian attorneys assigned to provide legal assistance to victims of sex-related offenses.
· Establishes Reporting Requirements for Secretary of Defense and the Sec. 576 Independent Review Panel to assess: (1) the Services’ implementation of the 1044e Victim Counsel provision; (2) the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the Victims’ Counsel to provide legal assistance to victims of sex-related offenses; and (3) whether the Victims’ Counsel roles and authorities should be expanded to provide additional service and/or legal standing on behalf of the victim in criminal proceedings.
Section 7: Secretary of Defense Report on Sentencing Reform
· Requires the Secretary of Defense to provide Congress with a report on sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentencing provisions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Section 8: Secretary of Defense Report on Role of Commanders in Military Justice Process
· Requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress containing an assessment of the current role of commanders in the administration of military justice and the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense shall assess the post-trial authority of the commander as convening authority under 10 U.S.C. 860, and include a recommendation regarding whether this authority should be further modified or repealed.