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Miller-Meeks Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Reform Broken Military Justice System

June 23, 2021

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, June 23rd, 2021, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), a retired Army Lt. Colonel, joined Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mike Turner (OH-10), Anthony Brown (MD-04), Trent Kelly (MS-01), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), to introduce the bipartisan Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act. This legislation moves the decision to prosecute serious crimes in the military from the chain of command to independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors.

This legislation is the House companion to S.1520, which was introduced in April by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and has a total of 65 co-sponsors.

“As a 24-year Army veteran, I understand the trauma that too many of our servicemembers have endured. What happened to Vanessa, and has happened to so many others, is tragic, and we must do more to keep our servicemembers safe and get them the justice they deserve,” said Miller-Meeks. “I am proud to join such a large and bipartisan group of members to introduce the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act to reform our military justice system for the better. This system has been broken for too long, and the time to act is now.”

“As a former combat commander and a survivor of sexual assault, I understand the traumatic experiences too many of our servicemembers have faced. Sexual assault has no place in our military, and it’s far past time we take more steps toward preventing and reducing these heart-wrenching crimes,” said Ernst. “This new, bipartisan bill will bolster prevention programs, education, and training; improve how we hold perpetrators accountable while ensuring commanders still have visibility of what’s going on in their unit; and equip military prosecutors with the skills necessary to handle sexual and domestic violence cases. I’m grateful to my fellow Iowan and veteran Congresswoman Miller-Meeks for helping lead this effort. With the support of so many in the House, and over sixty of my fellow senators, it’s clear the time to pass this legislation is now.”

“For eight years, we’ve been pushing for real change in the military justice system to ensure justice for survivors of sexual assault and abuse,” said Grassley. “It’s utterly unacceptable that so many of those who serve our country in uniform have dealt with a system that’s broken. Alongside our counterparts in the House of Representatives, I hope this is finally the year we can deliver the necessary change through this legislation.”

“Survivors have been calling for reform to the military justice system for over a decade, Congress has finally heard that call for help and will act this year. We now have broad, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to take major non-military felonies, including sexual assault, out of the chain of command and empower independent military prosecutors with the crucial decision on whether to try a servicemember,” said Speier. “Removing this longstanding and obvious conflict of interest will give more victims the confidence to come forward and result in greater accountability for perpetrators. This is a crucial first step for delivering justice to America’s brave servicemembers and ensuring that SPC Guillén’s name and spirit live on in that quest for justice. Congress must pass this crucial legislation without delay.”

"Sexual assault is a violent crime that violates a person’s basic human rights. As Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Caucus, I join Congresswoman Jackie Speier to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation in the House," said Turner. "I want to congratulate Senator Gillibrand on the profound support she’s achieved for this bill. This bipartisan, bicameral coalition shows how this legislation has evolved over the years to protect our men and women in uniform. By moving the decision to prosecute felony-level, complex criminal cases away from the unit commander, this bill will allow sexual assault cases to be fairly prosecuted, hold offenders accountable and protect victims, while allowing commanders to focus on mission success. I look forward to these critical bipartisan reforms becoming law.” 

“Our military justice system is failing servicemembers of color and survivors of sexual assault. The young women and men who wear the uniform and protect our country deserve a system that provides fairness and equal justice. It’s time for comprehensive reform,” said Brown. “This legislation is an important step forward in tackling the serious systemic disparities and disproportionate rate of punishment against servicemembers of color. We need to create a culture in our military and its justice system that protects all those who answer the call to serve and reflects our values. We owe it to our servicemembers to get this done.”

“This bill named in honor of Vanessa Guillén, seeks to empower military attorneys to make prosecutorial decisions, improve the chain of command's ability to maintain unit readiness and cohesion, and ensure every Servicemember is equipped to prevent what happened to Vanessa Guillén,” said Kelly. “This bill will establish systemic procedures for leaders, soldiers, and military attorneys that will decrease bias, expand training, and accountability. The military is nothing without its servicemembers. This bill will ensure the military is equipped to bring the same amount of disciplined execution it devotes to training people to protect our military workforce.”

“We owe it to the military members who are victims of violent crimes and sexual assault to update a system that for too long has failed to deliver justice,” said Luria. “As a 20-year Navy veteran, this bipartisan legislation will strengthen accountability in military justice. I am proud to stand with my colleagues, and with the brave survivors, in support of these needed changes.”

“The issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s an American issue. We must strengthen the military’s ability to protect its most important resource, which is the people who willingly sign-up to protect all Americans,” said Mullin. “The Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act will also encourage survivors to come forward to report sexual assaults and sexual harassment and to provide justice. This is about protecting our men and women in uniform and I will keep fighting so no family has to go through what the Guillén family has gone through.”

“PFC Vanessa Guillén’s murder shocked our nation and shed new light on the rising epidemic of unchecked harassment, assault, and retaliation throughout our military,” said Escobar. “Vanessa’s memory sparked a movement, and I am honored to co-lead the introduction of the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act to deliver justice for survivors and protect those who bravely put their lives on the line for our country.”

“As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I am proud to help lead this bipartisan legislation that seeks to end sexual assault in the military, hold violators accountable, and support survivors,” said Hudson. “Sexual assault is an affront to the values of our military the nation they defend. We must accept that what we have tried in the past has not worked. We owe it to the victims like Vanessa Guillén to do everything we can to end this culture of sexual assault. Our men and women in uniform sacrifice every day to keep us safe and we have a responsibility to ensure all service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“We will honor Vanessa’s memory today and always by working together to bring justice for her and other soldiers’ victim of sexual assault. I am proud to join Chairwoman Speier and Senator Gillibrand on this bipartisan and bicameral effort that would decrease bias and address impunity to achieve justice,” said Garcia. “We need to keep pushing for reform and improvement of the accountability mechanisms we are offering our soldiers to overcome abuse that shouldn’t happen in the first place. Our soldiers and their families, like the Guillén’s, are the force behind this change. We can’t fail them.”

To read the full text of the legislation, click HERE.

Background:

Under current law, commanders who do not have legal training make the decision on whether to prosecute a servicemember for major crimes, such as murder and rape, under the military justice system.

The Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would transfer this responsibility to military attorneys with significant trial experience, offering victims and their loved ones the confidence that a professional military prosecutor who is independent—outside of the chain of command of the victim and the alleged perpetrator—is making crucial decisions on whether to pursue a trial. Commanders would retain discretion to prosecute servicemembers for military-specific offenses, such as desertion, and for crimes with a maximum punishment of less than one year of confinement.

The legislation also includes provisions to improve training on the prevention of sexual assault, requires notice to Congress if the Defense Department changes policies related to sexual assault prevention and response, increases training for military prosecutors, and improves the physical security of lodging and living spaces on military installations.

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