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Independent Lawyers Will Handle Sex Crimes In Military

Members of Congress forced the U.S. military to put independent lawyers in charge of investigations and prosecutions in cases of sexual assault and other major crimes, the Associated Press reports. Frustrated lawmakers believed that too often, commanders would fail to take victims’ complaints seriously or would try to protect alleged perpetrators in their units. The new law was fueled by a persistent increase in sexual assaults and harassment across the military. Under the law, new special counsels will have the authority to make prosecution decisions on a number of major crimes, including murder, rape and several other sexual assault-related offenses, kidnapping, domestic violence, making or possessing child sexual abuse images, stalking and retaliation. 


Senior officials from the military services who are familiar with the new program said they already have more than 160 certified special trial counsels who will take over the prosecution decisions as of Thursday. Many of those lawyers have already been involved, providing advice and support for months on cases that are under way. As of Thursday, the special trial counsels will have sole authority to make prosecution decisions on new cases involving the major crimes. Any advice on existing cases is nonbinding. Officials expect each trial counsel to handle as many as 50 investigations and roughly eight to 12 trials a year. The military services have long struggled to come up with programs to prevent sexual assaults and to encourage reporting, including a number of new initiatives in recent years. They have yet to show any real progress in lowering the number of reported assaults, and anonymous surveys still indicate that many more victims opt not to report.

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