(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation that would give military crime victims the same basic rights as civilian crime victims. These basic rights include protection from the accused, notice and opportunity to speak at trial, and the right against unreasonable delay in trial proceedings guaranteed in law. Blumenthal decided to introduce this legislation – The Military Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2013 – in response to documented injustices related to cases of sexual assault in the military.
“There's no reason military sexual assault victims should be given less respect or fewer rights than civilian sexual assault victims,” Blumenthal said. “The key to deterring crime is prosecuting and punishing it effectively, which requires crime reporting by victims. Victims denied rights and respect won't report sexual assaults or any other serious crimes. If sexual assault isn’t reported it can’t be prosecuted or deterred.”
Blumenthal added, “This victims’ bill of rights has been proved feasible and effective in civilian criminal justice proceedings involving the same offenses. These rights are not novel or untested. They are well-established and esteemed."
The Military Crime Victims’ Rights Act would include in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) the same victims’ rights currently afforded to all civilian victims of crimes under Title 18 USC 3771 of the U.S. Code. Although implemented through a Department of Defense (DOD) directive, the military is not statutorily required to provide crime victims’ rights under the UCMJ.
“These basic standards of decency and fairness serve the military’s goals of good order and discipline – and are vital to effective criminal prosecution,” Blumenthal said. “When a sexual assault victim’s right to trial is delayed for two years and a critical witness leaves for battle without testifying, basic victims' rights are violated. Astonishingly and appallingly, a victim constituent of mine experienced this injustice.”
Although DOD and military services have made good faith efforts to provide crime victims’ rights to service members, neither of the relevant DoD Directive and Instruction (DoDD 1030.01 and DoDI 1030.02) provide clear procedures for enforcement of these rights. Consequently, DOD has provided crime victims’ rights in an inconsistent manner without a clear avenue for recourse if these rights are violated.
“A right without a remedy is meaningless. Recourse and disciplinary sanction are essential to make rights real,” Blumenthal said.
The Military Crime Victims’ Rights Act authorizes the designation of an administrative authority within DOD to receive and investigate complaints related to the provision or violation of the rights of victims of military crimes. The legislation also requires training for judge advocates and other appropriate members of the Armed Forces and DOD personnel to respond more effectively to the needs of victims of military crimes. Finally, the legislation establishes disciplinary sanctions, including suspension or termination from employment in the case of employees at DOD, for members of the Armed Forces and other personnel of the Department who willfully or wantonly fail to comply.
Congress last modified the Crime Victims’ Rights Act in 2004. Yet, almost a decade later, DOD reported to Congress on February 18, 2013 that it is only now beginning to “study other jurisdictions that provide remedies for failure to comply with victim’s assertion of rights and to determine the best practices for possible implementation in the military justice system.” In the same report, DOD acknowledged that the DOD Victims and Witness Assistance Program does not inform victims of their rights to “be reasonably heard” at any public proceeding, nor of the “right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.”
The Military Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2013 would include the following victims’ rights in the UCMJ:
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
- The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public proceeding in an investigation, court-martial, involuntary plea hearing, pre-sentencing hearing, or parole hearing involving the offense or of any release or escape of the accused.
- The right not to be excluded from any such public proceeding unless the military judge, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.
- The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding.
- The reasonable right to confer with the trial counsel in the case.
- The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
- The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
- The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.