An Air Force general’s decision to overturn a jury’s guilty verdict and reinstate a fighter pilot convicted of sexual assault could prove to be a lightning rod in efforts to legislatively strip commanders of their long-held authority in sexual assault cases, victims’ advocates say.
Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin’s decision to reinstate Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was a stunning example of structural problems in an outdated military justice system rife with bias that discounts victims while emboldening offenders, advocates said.
“It’s really shocking,” Susan Burke, a lawyer who represents numerous military women in lawsuits against the Defense Department, said of the case.
“It’s inexcusable. It’s like the poster child for why we need reform. It proves to Congress why they have to act,” she said.
Greg Jacob, policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network and a former Marine infantry officer, was likewise taken aback.
Here’s my problem with Stars & Stripes reporting. They manage to contact just about every advocacy group out there, but fail to take a look at the evidence in the case. There was zero evidence beyond the word of the accuser that any crime had taken place. And there was considerable hearsay evidence, not admitted at trial, that the accuser had lied.
The commander’s authority to set aside convictions is a powerful tool to ensure that miscarriages of justice are not tolerated.
Greg Jacob, noted above, is quoted as saying, “It’s atrocious. It’s infuriating,” he said. “It’s a perfect example of the due process system being overridden just at the whim of the commander. It’s a real travesty of justice.” In fact, the commander’s power to set aside a conviction is part of due process. Much as governors and the President have unquestioned pardon authority, so to do court martial appointing authorities.
Congress would do well to avoid these hysterical cries for revamping the current system, before examining the costs, both fiscal, and intangible, that would ensue. In fact, they’d do well to simply ignore the hysterics.
The military justice system isn’t without its flaws, but I’ve yet to met the commander that didn’t feel enormous responsibility to conform to both the letter and the spirit of the law when resorting to its use.