UPDATED 9:21 AM PT – Wednesday, October 14, 2020
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding the U.S. military’s handling of rape cases.
In a rare move by the Department of Justice Tuesday, officials asked the nation’s highest court to rehear cases involving three rape convictions that were thrown out due to a loophole. The request is centered around the case of Michael Briggs who served as a lieutenant colonel for the United States Air Force.
Briggs was discharged in 2014 and sentenced to five months of confinement after being convicted of raping a female staff sergeant in 2005. However, the conviction was dismissed by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces after ruling a five-year statute of limitations applied to the case.
Since the crime occurred before Congress amended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to abolish the five year time frame and the case was not considered a crime punishable by death, the statute stood.
The respondents argue the military court ruling was a literal interpretation of the law, restricting rape prosecutions after the statute of limitations expire. However, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argues this allows suspected rapists to walk away Scott free.
“And the position of the other side, Justice Breyer, by the way is that rape can never be punished in the military,” he stated. “That’s what they need to prevail in this case and I think to say that rape could never be a constitutionally permissible punishment, even for let’s say a repeated brutal rape of a civilian.”
Wall asserted it’s important to prosecute such cases for the benefit of the military.
“It’s critical to be able to go after these crimes outside of what would otherwise be the five-year window in order to make progress on rape and sexual assault in the military,” he continued. “It’s hard to get women to report.”
The Pentagon released a study in April, which found that sexual assault and harassment is still a prominent issue within the armed forces. The Department of Defense reported over 7,800 cases of sexual assault involving service members were reported last year, which is a 3 percent jump from the year prior.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Justice Department this could allow the prosecution of decades-old allegations. The high court is expected to make a decision before July.