The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law in December and brought new changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Most significantly, the NDAA changes legislation in rape and sexual assault cases in two main ways:
- Article 32 hearings will now be more closely modeled after preliminary hearings in the civilian federal criminal system.
- Victims of military sexual assault are now entitled to more protections.
ARTICLE 32 HEARINGS - PRELIMINARY HEARINGS
Article 32 hearings are designed to determine whether there is probable cause to charge a military member with committing an offense under the UCMJ. Under the new changes, Article32 hearings will now more closely emulate preliminary hearings in civilian criminal cases and will be conducted by a preliminary hearing officer who is a judge advocate.
In response to the ongoing discussion regarding sexual assault in the military, new changes have also been made to protect victims. Victims will have the right not to testify at the hearing - a right that exists in both civilian and military cases. They will also have access to a victims’ counsel program where they can gain free legal counsel to represent them during investigations and all phases of courts-martial proceedings.
Sexual assault has become a serious concern for military officials, and these new changes illustrate a focus on protecting victims and ensuring that wrongdoers are held fully accountable. As such, any military member facing serious allegations involving sexual assault should be focused on protecting their name and future with the help of an experienced attorney.