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by on January 28, 2020
The US military justice system was inspired by the British system (which was modernized to limit the role of commanders in the administration of justice). Originally, the commander was invested with immense power and, essentially, there was no protection for members of the service under military martial courts. Members were often convicted without the assistance of a lawyer or the protection of a judge. The "jury", instead of a judge, decided on what evidence would be admitted, and the commander had great authority over the accused's charges and sentence. Once convicted, the defendant had no access to modern appeals courts and was instead forced to appeal directly to commanders. Until 1920, a commander who protected our defenders | 110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 505, Washington, DC 20002 | If you are dissatisfied with a verdict or sentence, you can repeatedly return a case to a court-martial to obtain a more severe sentence or a guilty verdict.
This system was under intense scrutiny during World War II, when many Americans who served were subjected to the abusive and arbitrary power of commanders who exercise uncontrolled court-martial authority. During the war, more than 1 million martial judges were drafted and the Army alone executed more than 140 soldiers, including a surprisingly high proportion of African Americans. These executions generally took place a few weeks after sentencing, without undergoing a significant or independent review of the sentence.
In the 40 years after World War II, Congress worked to avoid such an obvious disregard for the rights of the accused and gradually enacted reforms to infuse the military justice system with a growing range of rights and protections for the accused. The fear of abuse in the form of illegal command influence (UCI) was justified, and Congress tried to verify it by implementing basic safeguards, such as almost independent military judges and defense lawyers, search and seizure protections, the right to self-control incrimination and a basic right of appeal. In a move that explicitly acknowledged the commanders' inherent bias and influence, Congress established measures in an attempt to ensure that the defendant received due process and was not convicted as a result of pressure and influence from the command. After the establishment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951, UCI was legally prohibited under article 37.
The institution of UCMJ was the cornerstone of the reform of the military justice system, which consolidated all service justice systems under a uniform military justice code and led to additional formal procedures and rules that protect the accused. However, to date, these reforms have not aligned with civil criminal justice standards, and Congress has opted for an awkward balance between the rights of a defendant and the unwarranted belief that commanders should be responsible for the administration of justice military.
These changes, which intensify protections for defendants, do not protect and often undermine the rights of victims of crime, and in particular victims of rape and sexual assault.
Finally, the restrictions that Congress imposed on commanders in reaction to blatant violations of the rights of service members failed to resolve the underlying problem and simply added a buffer to protect themselves from the power exercised by non-lawyer commanders. Also, restrictions against the ICU designed to protect the accused inherently inhibit the commanders' freedom to take aggressive measures to resolve the disciplinary and climatic problems necessary to prevent similar crimes from occurring in the future. The inherent conflict that led Congress to intervene in protecting the accused continues to violate the victims' rights and hinders their ability to seek justice for their assaults.
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