Victim advocates learn legal process for sexual assaults
May 16, 2014
By Lisa Rhodes
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (May 15, 2014) -- Fort Meade's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate recently conducted a mock trial of the legal proceedings in a sexual assault case for nearly 80 victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators.
The daylong trial was held April 24 at the Fort Meade courthouse in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Stacey Hale, Fort Meade's sexual assault response coordinator, approached the OSJA in February to educate victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators about the adjudication process because there have been changes under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 and 2014 and many advocates have not been informed.
"I thought it would be beneficial for them to see an Article 32 and a court-martial so they can explain the process to their clients to lessen the stress that they [the clients] experience as they go through the military justice system," Hale said. "I think it was invaluable to their experience."
Lt. Col. Roseanne Bennett, Fort Meade's staff judge advocate, said although the OSJA has conducted many hourly and lunch trainings for victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators, "one of the consistent things that came up was that they did not have a full appreciation of the entire court-martial process."
The National Authorization Act is a federal law that outlines the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense. The law is usually renewed each year and recently included specific provisions that relate to sexual assault and how it is to be handled under the Uniform Military Code of Justice.
Capt. Latisha Irwin, chief of Military Justice at the Fort Meade OSJA, came up with the idea of a mock trial and coordinated the effort. She said the mock trial was conducted to "pull the curtain back" on the entire legal process of a sexual assault.
The OSJA decided to use elements of U.S. vs. Sgt. Richard Archie as an example of a military sexual assault case. The facts of the case are fictional and involve a male sergeant and a female private.
The Army Judge Advocate General's Corps uses the case as a model to train military lawyers.
"It is a typical sexual assault scenario," Irwin said, noting that the case involves alcohol, barracks and a victim whose sexual history is called into question. "[The case] tries to pull in a lot of the facts that you see in a lot of sexual assault cases."
The mock trial illustrated the sexual assault case from start to finish, including the report of the assault, the investigation, the charging decision, the Article 32 hearing, the victim's testimony, discovery, arraignment and the guilty plea.
Participants included military lawyers from OSJA, the Military District of Washington, First Army Division East, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade, 780 Military Intelligence Brigade and the U.S. Claims Service,
Irwin said that the National Authorization Act has changed the Article 32 to a preliminary investigation. Congress also has provided victims with legal representation and certain rights. Victims are now represented by a special victim's counsel who can argue in front of the court on their behalf.
There also is a special victim's prosecutor who is considered a subject matter expert and has experience prosecuting sexual assaults.
After the convicted perpetrator is sentenced, victims can submit matters to the convening authority in the case on what impact the crime has had on their lives.
Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley is the convening authority for many of the in sexual assault cases at Fort Meade.
Sgt. 1st Class Jill Easton, a victim advocate with the 310th Military Intelligence Battalion, said the mock trial was informative.
"It gave us a good idea as to what to expect and how to prepare victims for the process," she said.
Easton said the process of reporting, investigating and testifying in a sexual assault case can be difficult and emotionally intensive for victims. For example, victims must repeatedly tell the details of an alleged assault, and if the case goes to trial, they face their alleged attacker in the court room, and their character and sexual history are often called into question by the defense.
"One of the comments made by one of our players [in the mock trial] is 'misinformation is so much worse than no information,' " Bennett said. "So if you're telling a victim [about the process and] they have some expectations but that's not what happens, [the] victim lacks trust in the system. ... So it's really important to have them [victim advocates] understand what we do."
Fort Meade's Public Affairs Office videotaped the trial so it can be used as a teaching tool in future trainings.
Irwin said the victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators who attended the mock trial "are better equipped to do their job and will be better able to provide the necessary support to victims who are going through the judicial process."