JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas- With the new changes to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, the Army's Military Justice Legislation Training Team (MJLTT) recently conducted a two-day course here. The course was mandatory for all Army judge advocates, and military and civilian paralegals.
One of the trainers was Lt. Col. Sara Root, chief of the MJLTT who is assigned to Office of The Judge Advocate General-criminal law division.
"The Military Justice Act of 2016, also known as MJA 16, is the most comprehensive changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in decades," said Root. "[The act] looked at each article section-by-section implementing various changes throughout UCMJ." section-by-section implementing various changes throughout UCMJ."
She continued, "The training is important because these are some of the most significant changes that we've made to our military justice system since the UCMJ was implemented in the 1950s."
The UCMJ is a federal law, enacted by Congress that defines the armed forces justice system. The UCMJ is comprised of 134 articles; articles 77 through 134 of the UCMJ are known as punitive articles, if violated, can result in punishment by court-martial.
The course was open to not only Army legal personnel but to other service members as well.
"We encourage all services to attend training, so they can get a better understanding because the act doesn't just make changes to Army proceedings and law; it changes military law across the Department of Defense and affects everyone in the military. The other branches are doing training as well, but [the Army] decided to training via MTT," said Root.
Former President Barack Obama signed the MJA 16 in December 2016. The act updated several crimes acknowledged by the UCMJ to include sexual offenses, credit card theft, cyber-stalking, and retaliation against victims or reporters of crime.
"We are always making changes to make our systems better. The three big things that the changes affect are: good order and discipline, victims' rights, and rights of the accused," said Root.
Another change that occurred with the act was competent jurisdiction for military courts.
"Under the new changes, military courts are now courts of competent jurisdiction which now allow military judges to rule on investigative subpoenas and warrants for electronic communication very early in the criminal investigate process," said Root. "This is very exciting because it's something that our federal counterparts can do, and now, our military judges have that authority as well."
Staff Sgt. Charles Campbell, a paralegal with Regional Health Command Central, attended the two-day session.
"When the UCMJ first started, there wasn't any such thing as credit cards, so credit card fraud or theft was not a crime. And, as the environment and times change, our military law has to change with it," said Campbell. "We have to remain adaptable and flexible to any changes that make our laws better. The level of emphasis that has been placed on this training tells me just how serious and important this is to not only my technical knowledge, but to others' working knowledge of the changes that will occur."
During the training, the attendees also discussed the history and the changes to the UCMJ under the four phases.
One of the phases they discussed was Phase II, which covered the Camp Logan riots.
Following three separate courts martial as a result of a race-riot in Houston, 19 black Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 24th United States Infantry, known as the "Buffalo Soldiers" a predominantly black unit, were hanged without federal review or appeal.
"That was really a travesty of justice that happened after the Camp Logan Riots. We need to give our Soldiers more due process. One of the major issues regarding the sentencing of the African American Soldiers was there was minimal defense counsel assigned to represent the accused," said Root.
Phase II of the UCMJ spanned from 1913-1941. The UCMJ is currently in Phase IV of changes, which began approximately in 2012.
The training not only trained lawyers, attorneys and paralegals, it also trained commanders and first sergeants.
"I think it's important to receive training to understand the regulation and put it into context with various examples from others attending the training. When it comes to military justice, it can be very daunting to understand because it's not only in legal jargon but it also not in context that may relate specifically to the situation you're faced with as a commander," said Capt. Adam Crawford, commander of Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army). "It's nice to have these classes that provide you scenarios and input, so you can be informed on how laws apply to certain situations. Every situation is different, but when you go through several scenarios you understand how laws apply. That's huge for making decisions when it comes to good order and discipline."
Many individuals reflected on the information gained during the training.
"For me, this training was great because this is my first command, and I have done a minimal amount of UCMJ. Understanding what's changed and how it applies is really critical for being a commander," said Crawford.
Campbell added, "The training that we received face-to-face versus in an on-line class is important because the changes are so broad, and we get instant feedback if any questions arise during the training from a subject matter expert."
The new changes to the UCMJ will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.