Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced new bipartisan military justice reforms that she successfully fought to secure in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate. The NDAA will now go to conference committee with the U.S. House of Representatives before heading to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“I’m disappointed that, once again, the Senate blocked a vote on my Military Justice Improvement Act, which would put the decision to try felony-level cases in the hands of trained military prosecutors, but I am pleased that the Senate has passed other reforms I fought for to improve our military justice system,” said Senator Gillibrand, the Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “With so many sexual assault crimes still happening in our military, from the Marines United photo scandal to the shamefully high rate of retaliation against military sexual assault survivors, it’s clear that we need to act urgently to pass and then implement these essential reforms. I was proud to fight for these improvements, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure our military has a justice system that is fair and professional.”
Below is a summary of Gillibrand’s military justice reforms that were included in this year’s Senate NDAA:
Following the discovery of the network of United States Marines, former Marines, other service members and civilians who circulated illicit images of female service members and veterans, Gillibrand secured a provision in the NDAA that would ensure that the sharing of sexually explicit conduct is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Currently, there are no specific military or federal statutes that address the electronic sharing of intimate images without consent, general cyberbullying, or cyber exploitation that has the potential to affect our national security. Gillibrand’s provision would help close this gap and make it easier to hold these perpetrators accountable.
Litigation Track for JAGs/Military Justice Professionalization
Gillibrand put forward bipartisan legislation with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to create a career track for lawyers in each armed service in order to improve expertise within the military justice system. This bipartisan legislation would improve the quality of litigation expertise by requiring each branch of our military to implement a career litigation track that allows a portion of its attorneys to specialize in the foundation of U.S. military law and the UCMJ for the bulk of their careers — an approach the Navy successfully adopted in 2007.
Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan Educating Service Members in Training on Prevention (E-STOP) Act with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), which would implement new educational steps to thwart military sexual assault by mandating in-person, comprehensive sexual assault prevention training to newly enlisted service members before they depart for basic training, including proper use of social media.
Appellate Rights for Victims
Gillibrand introduced legislation that would pave the way for equal access to military appellate courts regarding victims’ rights. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has declined to hear petitions on victims’ rights issues, citing congressional intent, despite the fact that the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act provided for enforcement of certain crime victims’ rights by all courts of criminal appeals, including the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Limiting access to appellate courts goes against the long-standing legal principle of due process. This bill corrects this injustice and allows both the accused and survivors a path for relief in the appellate court system.