Over at 31(b)log, Major Rebecca Kliem writes about The Long Goodbye for Good Military Character (link to post):
Having an outstanding military record has long been an advantage when charged with a crime in the military justice system because it adds evidence of good military character to the defense counsel’s arsenal of weapons that can create reasonable doubt. Those days may soon come to a close as pending legislation affecting evidentiary rules finally reaches the well of the courtroom.
Some members of Congress apparently think that there’s something improper about the so-called “good soldier defense.” Major Kliem’s post digs deep into the military law of good military character, and she discusses the legislative proposal that would restrict that kind of evidence.
But something comes to mind. It is thoroughly settled that any accused is entitled to present evidence of his own good character. In fact:
It is not necessary to cite authorities to show that, in criminal prosecutions, the accused will be allowed to call witnesses to show that his character was such as would make it unlikely that he would be guilty of the particular crime with which he is charged. . . . It [is] not intended to give weight to the defendant’s personal testimony in the case, but to establish a general character inconsistent with guilt of the crime with which he st[ands] charged; and the evidence [is] admissible, whether or not the defendant himself testifie[s].
Edgington v. United States, 164 U.S. 361, 363-64 (1896).
In this politically charged environment, the proposal to prevent a service member from using good reputation in the service as evidence of good character may well become law. But I believe that if it does, then it will not stay law for long.