Yes. In most cases, you are able to file an appeal if convicted of rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Your appeal depends on the type of court-martial proceeding: summary, special or general. Here is a brief explanation of how the process works.
Summary: If convicted during a summary court-martial, you have five days after sentencing to appeal to the next higher command, which has three options:
- Keep the punishment as rendered
- Reduce the punishment
- Eliminate the punishment
If you still disagree with the conviction or sentence, you have the option to appeal further to the Judge Advocate General and possibly the Board of Correction of Military Records.
Special or general: If you were convicted and sentenced during a special or general court-martial, your appeal is filed with the military service courts of appeal.
You are allowed to retain a lawyer at every level of the process. You can choose a free military attorney. However, with your freedom and career on the line, it’s advisable to consider a civilian lawyer with considerable expertise in military criminal defense.
Appealing a conviction is not a quick process
In most cases, military sexual assault appeals can take two to four years. Once the court-martial proceeding ends, it can take up to six months for the convening authority to produce the trial record. Once available, your lawyer’s careful review of these documents, which can be hundreds or even thousands of pages, can take several weeks.
Experienced attorneys may also conduct interviews with witnesses or others who participated in the trial before crafting an appeal. Once drafted, your case is considered along with thousands of others after being filed with the relevant court of appeal. The process is often extended if it is heard before the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Results matter more than the time an appeal takes
Service members convicted of an Article 120 offense receive a dishonorable discharge from the military. Depending upon the charge and the circumstances, they can face up to seven years in prison for abusive sexual contact, while a rape conviction can result in life imprisonment.
If accused of a sexual offense, consulting with a lawyer with expertise in Article 120 cases is crucial, both in defending you from charges or handling your appeal. JAG attorneys do not typically specialize in sexual assault defense. Your future may depend on finding a lawyer with a record of success in handling these cases.