Domestic violence set to become a crime under military law

The new military spending bill includes the addition of domestic violence as a crime under military law.

As CNBC reports, the 2019 Defense Authorization Act was recently approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. While the act is primarily a funding bill that sets out the Pentagon's budget and priorities over the next year, it does include some changes to military laws and regulations. One of the most notable changes is the fact that domestic violence will now be considered a crime under military law. While military officials have used assault laws to prosecute domestic violence in the past, the inclusion of a specific domestic violence offense will have significant ramifications.

How is domestic violence prosecuted?

As the Military Times reports, making domestic violence a crime under military law does not mean that military prosecutors have not already charged people who have been accused of domestic violence. Rather, prosecutors have simply relied on assault laws, which have long existed in the military, to charge alleged domestic abusers.

Assault crimes are serious and they do carry severe penalties, which can range from jail time to dismissal from the military. However, the lack of a domestic violence law in the military also has drawbacks. Foremost of which is that when troops convicted of assault reenter civilian life, civilian law enforcement agencies tend to have a hard time assessing what risk those individuals pose.

For example, under civilian law, a domestic violence conviction can make it harder to purchase firearms and makes it easier for alleged domestic violence victims to get restraining orders against their abusers. However, since there has so far been no distinction between assault and domestic violence under military law, police tend to have a hard time determining whether such restrictions apply to former troops convicted of assault.

Shooting leads to change

The addition of a domestic violence crime to military law became more urgent following the 2017 shooting at a Texas church that killed 26 people. The perpetrator in that case had formerly been kicked out of the military for assaulting his wife and child. However, police in Texas were never notified of the nature of the assault charges that, under civilian law, would have prevented the perpetrator from purchasing firearms. That led to calls for changes to military law to close this perceived loophole.

The new law also makes it easier to transfer victims of domestic violence away from their abusers and makes it easier for victims to be eligible for counsel.

Military law help

Military justice can be swift and harsh, which is why those serving in the armed forces who have been accused of offenses need to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who handles military law cases will have the expertise necessary to provide clients with the advocacy and advice they need during what can often be a confusing and intimidating process.