Senate Votes To End 'Good Soldier Defense' In Military Sexual Assault

Those calling for an overhaul to the U.S. military's sexual assault policies have good reason to be excited tonight. On Monday, the Senate approved a bill that would incorporate huge changes in the military justice system, including ditching the so-called "good soldier defense."

Via the Associated Press:

On a vote of 97-0, the Senate rallied behind a bipartisan plan crafted by three female senators — Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Republicans Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska — that would impose a half-dozen changes to combat the pervasive problem of rape and sexual offenses that Pentagon leaders have likened to a cancer within the ranks.

In the words of a noted Oscar-winning thespian, "Well alright, alright, alright!!!" That's pretty damn good news tonight. And the vote was 97-0! That's pretty incredible, no? "Unanimous agreement in the U.S. Senate is pretty rare — but rarer still is the kind of sweeping, historic change we've achieved over the past year in the military justice system," McCaskill said.

The "good soldier defense" is as absurd as you are thinking it is. A Military Law Review article excerpted in Time explained it as "the introduction of evidence of a defendant's good military character is intended to provide the basis for an inference that the accused is too professional a soldier to have committed the offense with which he is charged."

McCaskill called it "the ridiculous notion that how well one flies a plane should have anything to do with whether they committed a crime."

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....Under the bill, the defense could still be used in the sentencing phase. The Pentagon has indicated that it is crucial as commanders adjust sentences to allow for plea agreements.

The new law would also include provisions for victims:

The measure also would give accusers a greater say in whether their cases are litigated in the military system or civilian and would establish a confidential process to allow alleged victims to challenge their separation or discharge from the military. In addition, it would increase the accountability of commanders and extend all changes related to sexual assault cases to the service academies. In cases where a prosecutor wanted to move ahead with a case but a commander disagreed, the civilian service secretary would be the final arbiter....The law also provides alleged victims with legal counsel, eliminates the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases and criminalizes retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault.

The legislation now moves on to the house, who could vote on it as a stand-alone measure or incorporate it a defense policy bill later this year. Either way, with a vote of 97-0, things are looking pretty good for a substantial change to the system.

Image via AP Images.