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US Supreme Court: Military rape cases before 2006 can be prosecuted

A victim of sexual assault claimed, "Having an 8-0 unanimous panel speaks volumes to how seriously this country is taking the stance against rape in the military."

US Supreme Court: Military rape cases before 2006 can be prosecuted
Image Source: Getty Images/ Bloomberg Creative Photos

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Sexual Assault

Revising military codes regarding sexual assault, the United States Supreme Court ruled that rape cases that occurred before 2006 can be prosecuted, CNN reports. The historic verdict was passed with eight votes in favor and none against. The verdict overturns a loophole of a five-year statute of limitations that existed for military sexual assault before 2006. Now, the military will be able to prosecute at any time sexual assault cases committed between the years 1986 and 2006. The ruling has been praised by many as a step forward in the patch to protecting victims of sexual assault in the military.




The Supreme Court case revolved around a 2018 ruling regarding how sexual assault cases are handled according to military code. In 2018, the convictions of three men found guilty of sexual assault in the Air Force were overturned, including one whose confession was recorded by the Air Force. This was made possible because of a top military appeals court which affirmed that a five-year statute of limitations existed for military sexual assault cases prior to 2006. The rape convictions for all three perpetrators were thus vacated. Under military law, any and all crimes have historically been charged within five years of the crime. In 1986, however, Congress passed a law exempting crimes punishable by the death sentence from the five-year statute of limitations—including rape.




In 2006, this law was revisited. Congress revised the code, making it even clearer that rape could be prosecuted "at any time without limitation." Therefore, conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote on Thursday, "Respondents' prosecutions for rape under the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] were timely." The case is particularly important as it marks the first time the Supreme Court has heard a sexual assault case in the #MeToo era. The highest court in the land has now entered the murky waters of sexual assault laws in the military at a time when they are under greater scrutiny.




Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Briggs is one of the men previously convicted before the top military appeals court's 2018 ruling. He confessed, in a phone call from 2013, to raping SSgt. "DK" in 2005. A recording of the call was played in a military court in 2014, and he was found guilty by a judge following trial. Briggs was sentenced to five months in prison, in addition to being dismissed from the Air Force. He is also registered as a sex offender. When the Supreme Court's ruling was announced on Thursday, DK said she held her husband as they cried together. "Hopefully other victims will see this case and hopefully some of their faith in the justice system for the military will be restored," she said in an interview with CNN. "Maybe now more victims will come forward. Maybe they'll see that the military does care, that the government does care. They don't have to suffer in silence, they don't have to be scared—they have a voice."





Harmony Allen, another sexual assault victim, claimed that "having an 8-0 unanimous panel speaks volumes to how seriously this country is taking the stance against rape in the military." She was raped by Master Sgt. Richard D. Collins on Texas' Sheppard Air Force Base in the year 2000. "Going through the trial and having him get out made me feel worse than going through the actual rape, because I had to relive the rape and gruesome details to a court full of strangers," she shared. "To put yourself through that and then have the military say, 'that's great that that happened, but we're going to let him go free,' and just trying mentally to deal with that—it's been impossible to heal from the rape. With him going back and with the country standing behind rape victims, I think this is going to bring healing to me and a lot of other victims."



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