Sexual assault victims have right to military attorney
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By Capt. Rachele Adkins | Special victim counsel for Fort Leavenworth

Posted Oct. 9, 2014 @ 10:37 am

As part of the military's effort to improve the handling of sexual assault cases, the new Special Victim Counsel program enables victims of sexual assault to have an attorney appointed free of charge to advise and represent them at all stages of the military justice system and in legal assistance matters.

Traditionally, the military justice system only involved a trial counsel advocating for the interests of the government and a defense counsel advocating for the interests of the accused. The SVC program recognizes the reality that victims of sexual assaults often have interests and needs that are unique to the prosecution of this type of crime. The addition of the SVC adds a third attorney, one dedicated solely to advocating in the interests of the victim. SVCs will zealously argue for the best interests of their clients as appropriate, even when those interests do not align with the interests of the command. They will empower victims and foster an understanding of the military justice process. SVCs also ensure that victims are both heard and protected throughout the court martial process, all while maintaining complete confidentiality and respecting the attorney-client relationship.

If a victim chooses, all communication regarding the case would have to be made through the victim's SVC, meaning the SVC would have to be contacted first in order for law enforcement, the prosecution or the defense to interview or talk to the victim. Additionally, SVCs can accompany victims to all interviews and proceedings. SVCs also provide confidential advice on the military justice system and victims' rights. Victims now have their own attorney to advocate the victim's interests to prosecutors and the accused's chain of command. SVCs can advocate for either pursuit of court-martial, Chapter 10 or other alternative dispositions depending on the desires of the victim. Additionally, SVCs advocate for victims' privacy interests in certain court hearings regarding prior sexual activity and behavioral health care. SVCs can also provide assistance with other issues, such as applying for expedited transfers, obtaining protective orders, referring the victim to other agencies for help and helping with other legal assistance matters.

To be eligible for SVC assistance, a victim must make an unrestricted or restricted report of sexual assault occurring either on post or off post. Victims eligible for the SVC program include all soldiers regardless of whether the suspect is a service member or a civilian. When the suspect is a soldier, eligible victims include the following: both adult and child dependents, other service members, foreign military personnel assigned to the United States and their accompanying dependents, and retirees and their dependents.

An SVC can be requested through any of the following: victim advocate, sexual assault response coordinator, Family Advocacy Program, investigator, victim-witness liaison or trial counsel. An SVC is available and may be requested at any time throughout the justice process, even if originally declined. Once an SVC has been requested, an initial consultation between the victim and SVC will be coordinated within 24 hours of the request.

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