President Biden signed an Executive Order to implement historic, bipartisan military justice reforms that significantly strengthen how the military handles sexual assault cases. The Executive Order transfers key decision-making authorities from commanders to specialized, independent military prosecutors in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, and other serious offenses by amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Florida National Organization for Women (NOW) applaud this action as a necessary first step in implementing serious reforms for military survivors of sexual violence.
The Executive Order takes important action to reform our military justice system by amending the Manual for Courts-Martial and its accompanying Rules for Courts-Martial including by:
• Establishing the rules that will govern the new Offices of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC), the independent military prosecutors who will now decide, in the place of commanders, whether to prosecute covered offenses such as sexual assault and domestic violence, child abuse, and murder;
• Making clear that prosecutorial decisions made by special trial counsel are binding and fully independent from the chain of command;
• Delineating the relationship and authorized interactions between special trial counsel and commanders to protect the independence of special trial counsel;
• Modernizing procedures to better protect victims and promote fairness before, during and after court-martial proceedings;
• Reforming the court-martial sentencing system to promote uniformity and fairness, as recommended by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC), to reduce disparities in sentencing in cases of rape and sexual assault; and
• Creating a uniform evidence standard for non-judicial punishment actions, which the IRC highlighted as critical to make consistent across the military services given that most sexual misconduct cases are handled by nonjudicial punishment rather than courts-martial.
This advances the IRC’s core accountability recommendations and builds on the progress that has already been made by the Department of Defense in implementing the IRC’s more than 80 recommendations, including:
• Establishing the Offices of Special Trial Counsel.
• Hiring, Training, and Empowering the Prevention Workforce.
• Strengthening and Professionalizing the Sexual Assault Response Workforce.
• Improving the Military’s Response to Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment.