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Army to Increase Scrutiny for Soldiers Facing Violent Charges

The U.S. Army will no longer allow military commanders to decide whether soldiers accused of serious crimes can leave the service rather than go on trial, The Texas Tribune reports. Under the new rule, which goes into effect Saturday, military commanders will no longer have the sole authority to grant a soldier’s request for what is known as a discharge in lieu of court martial, or Chapter 10, in certain cases. Instead, the newly created Office of Special Trial Counsel, a group of military attorneys who specialize in handling cases involving violent crimes, must also approve the decision. Without the attorneys’ approval, charges against a soldier can’t be dismissed. The Office of Special Trial Counsel will have the final say, according to the Army. The new rule will apply only to cases that fall under the purview of the Office of Special Trial Counsel, including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, kidnapping and murder.

In 2021, Congress authorized the creation of the new legal office — one for each military branch except the U.S. Coast Guard — in response to yearslong pressure to change how the military responds to violent crimes, specifically sexual assault, and reduce commanders’ control over that process. However, the Office of Special Trial Counsel’s decisions are not absolute. If the attorneys want to drop a charge, the commander still has the option to impose a range of other administrative punishments. The decision comes one year after ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and Military Times published an investigation exposing how more than half of the 900 soldiers who were allowed to leave the Army in the previous decade rather than go to trial had been accused of violent crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence, according to an analysis of roughly 8,000 Army courts-martial cases that reached arraignment. The Army did not dispute the findings that the discharges in lieu of trial, also known as separations, were increasingly being used for violent crimes.


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