Kunsan court-martial shows complexity of sexual assault

  • Published
  • By The Legal Office
  • 8th Fighter Wing
On May 22, 2014, the 8th Fighter Wing stood down flying operations to focus on sexual assault prevention and response. In the Kunsan Air Base courtroom, however, military justice operations were running at full force for a sexual assault general court-martial. Over the course of four days, a panel of six officer and enlisted members heard from 17 witnesses, observed the evidence and decided the case.

Sexual assault cases involve real people whose lives are deeply impacted by both the process and the outcome. From the moment an Airman is charged with a crime until the conclusion of the trial, the Airman lives with the possibility of going to jail, being punitively discharged from service, losing pay and receiving a reduction in grade. Someone reporting a sexual assault not only has to deal with the consequences of that night, which may include physical and mental trauma, guilt, and isolation, but he or she will also have to go through the investigative process for an uncertain outcome. Both await the results anxiously.

Our system of military justice is not perfect, but it is fair. Victims of sexual crimes have a voice, and they also have legal representation. Those accused of crimes are represented by counsel and are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The command's interests of maintaining good order and discipline are represented by government counsel. An independent and unbiased panel of members considers all of the evidence and renders a decision. Invariably, one party will not like the outcome, but each party gets their proverbial day in court.

In this particular case, all parties truly did get their day in court. One Airman got to tell the court her recollection of the events of that night and why she came forward. She was treated with dignity and respect throughout the trial. The Airman accused of the crime, zealously represented by counsel, received all the protections the law provides to every Airman.

On May 23, 2014, the court decided the evidence did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused Airman was acquitted of the charged offense.