Scholarship Saturday: The Ongoing Discussion Regarding the Placement of Military Prosecutorial Discretion
Two recent law review notes published by the University of Virginia and the University of Illinois start from the same premise: that the military’s zealous sexual assault prevention and response efforts have compromised the military justice system’s ability to appropriately and reliably dispose of allegations.
In his note, Overcoming Overcorrection: Towards Holistic Military Sexual Assault Reform, 102 Va. L. Rev. 2027 (2016), Greg Rustico favors giving prosecutorial discretion for all crimes with civilian analogues to judge advocates, rather than vesting that power in commanders. In contrast, a note by Heidi Brady argues for giving prosecutorial discretion in the military justice system to Department of Justice lawyers. See Justice is No Longer Blind: How the Effort to Eradicate Sexual Assault in the Military Unbalanced the Military Justice System, 2016 U. Ill. L. Rev. Online 193.
In supporting their recommendations, Mr. Rustico and Ms. Brady point to relatively recent changes to the military justice system – such as the revision of Article 32 and the requirement that a commander’s performance/fitness appraisal consider how they handled allegations of sexual assault within their units. Both also spend a good bit of time asserting that the military’s sexual assault prevention and response programs have tainted military court-martial panels. Ms. Brady also argues that prosecutorial discretion needs to be taken from the Department of Defense in order to counterbalance certain aspects of the military justice system which she views as being inherently unfavorable to the accused, such as the fact that verdicts are not required to be unanimous, the lack of dedicated defense investigators, the lack of dedicated funding for the defense function, defense counsel’s inability to obtain equal access to documents and witnesses before referral, and the fact that the defense is not permitted to interview victims without having a government-appointed lawyer (either the prosecutor or a victim’s counsel) present. Neither Mr. Rustico nor Ms. Brady address the sweeping changes which were recently signed into law through the Military Justice Act of 2016, which was this blog’s #1 Military Justice Story of 2016.
The question of whether commanders should retain their prosecutorial discretion, and if not, then where that responsibility should fall, has been a topic of discussion for several years now, on this blog and elsewhere:
• Spilman, Zachary D, Blame all the lawyers [Commentary], Baltimore Sun (March 31, 2014).
• Blog post: “Thinking Slow About Sexual Assault in the Military”
• Blog post: Opposing views on civilianizing military justice
• Blog post: Scholarship Saturday – Professor Schlueter responds to the siren songs for reform
• Blog post: Scholarship Saturday – The plight of the accused