WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Jackie Speier (D- San Francisco/San Mateo) and Bruce Braley (D-IA) yesterday requested a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to discuss Lt. General Craig Franklin’s recent decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction of an airman on Aviano Air Base.
The airman, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, was convicted by a court martial in November of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault, and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Last month, Franklin used his power as convening authority of the court martial to unilaterally overturn the conviction.
“The fact that one person in the military can unilaterally overturn a punishment determined by a judge or jury, for any or no reason, flies in the face of justice,” said Speier. “Our brave service members deserve more than a judicial system that treats them like second class citizens. I look forward to meeting with Secretary Hagel to discuss a meaningful solution that will right this wrong.”
On Tuesday, Speier, Braley, and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) introduced the Military Judicial Reform Act, HR. 1079, to strip military commanders of the unilateral power to overturn convictions and lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. The bill amends Article 60 and Article 63 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to take away the power of the convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.
Speier and Braley were joined at a press conference about the Military Judicial Reform Act on Tuesday by Nancy Parrish of Protect Our Defenders, Kirby Dick who directed the Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War, and Susan Burke, an attorney who has filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens of survivors of military sexual trauma.
While there are an estimated 19,000 incidents of rape or sexual assault in the military each year, only 12.8% of victims ever report the crimes. Of those reports, 20% are referred to a court martial by a commanding officer; very few cases, less than 8%, result in conviction.
Congresswoman Speier will soon reintroduce her bill the STOP Act to create an impartial office within the military to handle cases of rape and sexual assault outside of the chain of command.
The letter to Secretary Hagel is posted on the Congresswoman’s website.