U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and two colleagues have asked the Obama administration to change the military’s pre-trial process in sexual assault cases, saying it allows victims to be questioned in an “intimidating and degrading” manner, resulting in “a major chilling effect on sexual assault reporting.”
Blumenthal, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), wrote to President Barack Obama, in the wake of pre-trial hearings in a case where three former U.S.Naval Academy football players are accused of sexually assaulting a female academy midshipman. In the hearings, the woman was cross- examined for some 30 hours about such topics as her sexual practices and her underwear. The three lawmakers wrote in their letter that they were “shocked and alarmed” to learn that such questions are allowed in the process, formally called Article 32 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Citing legal experts, they said the questioning would not be permitted in any civilian court and constitutes “unabashed abuse.” They asked the Obama administration to immediately change the system to conform to Federal Court procedures. Article 32 is used to determine if there is probable cause for a case to go a court-martial trial. It differs from a civilian procedure such as a Federal Grand Jury in a number of ways, including that it is public, permits the defendant to be present, and allows extensive questioning of the accuser by the defense attorney. A Grand Jury is conducted in closed session and with participation restricted to presentation of evidence by the prosecution.