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Reforms made to military justice system in 2016 took effect with new year

The war court headquarters at Camp Justice, as seen through a broken window at an obsolete air hangar at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on February 28, 2015, in an image approved for release by the U.S. military. (Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/TNS)
January 08, 2019

Changes to the way military justice is dispensed aim to expand the rights of the accused, increase protections for junior servicemembers and make the criminal justice system more transparent.

The revisions, part of the Military Justice Act of 2016, took effect Wednesday, an Air Force statement said. They are the broadest changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in decades, the office said.

Significant changes include a right by convicted servicemembers to appeal a sentence greater than six months and the criminalization of sexual activity between a person with special trust and a “specially protected” junior member.

Specially protected applies to a recruit or trainee, according to the statement. Positions of trust include most anyone in authority over them: officers, noncommissioned officers, recruiters and instructors.

Another two crimes were added to the UCMJ: retaliating against someone for reporting or planning to report a crime, and fraudulent use of a credit or debit card, according to a statement from the Secretary of the Air Force.

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Both actions were previously prohibited; now they’re classified as criminal acts.

The new year also brought changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial. Among them, convicted servicemembers sentenced to serve more than six months in confinement may appeal their convictions, if not already automatically reviewed.

Most court-martial documents will be publicly accessible under a system like those used in civilian courts, according to the secretary’s statement.

Other changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial mean a convicted servicemember may choose a judge alone to impose the sentence rather than the court-martial panel that heard the case.

The changes also hand military judges authority to issue investigative subpoenas before the case is referred to a charging authority, issue warrants for electronic communications and enforce certain victim’s rights.

In addition, courts-martial panels — the group of officers and enlisted servicemembers that hear the case — are set at eight members for general courts-martial that do not include capital punishment as a potential sentence and four members for special courts-martial.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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