Court-martial sentences still 'the Wild West' as proposed guidelines rejected

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

Court-martial sentences still 'the Wild West' as proposed guidelines rejected

by: Nancy Montgomery | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: December 16, 2016

A sweeping change to military sentencing proposed by the Pentagon earlier this year didn’t make the cut in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, leaving military juries and judges with broad discretion in deciding how to punish troops convicted of crimes.

A proposal to have military judges, not juries, sentence troops convicted at court-martial, with sentences based on guidelines like those used in federal courts was not included in the legislation this past week. As a result, sentences for most crimes will continue to carry a broad range of punishment. The same crime could yield a sentence of “no punishment” to one of lifetime imprisonment.

Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Congress had adopted many of the military justice reforms proposed by the Pentagon in January after a lengthy study. The sentencing reforms not adopted will undergo further study: Another review panel is to submit a findings and recommendations to the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services by October 31, 2020.

Critics of the unique military sentencing system have for decades said it results in punishment that is unpredictable, disparate and sometimes too light.

“It was 50 years overdue, and it was the only part of the proposed reform that would really have modernized the system,” said former Air Force top prosecutor Don Christensen. “So now it’s still the wild, Wild West. The process has all the rules of a knife fight.”

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