Senate Passes Military Sexual Assault Bill, Ends "Good-Soldier" Defense

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 10 2014 9:28 PM

Senate Passes Military Sexual Assault Bill, Ends "Good-Soldier" Defense

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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) speaks at a news conference on July 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

There are in fact some things that members of Congress can agree on. With a vote of 97-0, the Senate unanimously approved a set of changes to the military’s sexual assault policies late on Monday night. The bipartisan bill composed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), ends the time-old practice of using a “good soldier defense” in cases of assault. Here’s the AP:

The new legislation would change the military rules of evidence to prohibit the accused from using good military character as an element of his defense in court-martial proceedings unless it was directly relevant to the alleged crime. The "good soldier defense" could encompass a defendant's military record of reliability, dependability, professionalism and reputation as an individual who could be counted on in war and peacetime.
McCaskill described it as "the ridiculous notion that how well one flies a plane should have anything to do with whether they committed a crime."
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The full Senate backing comes in sharp contrast to a vote just last week on a measure proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have stripped commanders of their ability to prosecute or prevent charges and placed that authority with military lawyers outside the unit in question. Military leaders staunchly opposed the bill, insisting they should have more responsibility for the men and women under their leadership, not less. The Senate came up five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, 55-45, on that farther-reaching proposal.

“Although this bill does not create the critical fundamental change needed to improve the military justice system, [McCaskill’s legislaiton] builds on useful reforms already undertaken by Congress,” Greg Jacob, policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, told Politico.

The bill, which also provides legal counsel for alleged victims and criminalizes retaliation against those who report assault, will now move to the House where it is expected to receive a warm welcome.