On December 10, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that military rape cases have no statute of limitations. A prior statute of limitations was five years. According to the ruling, a member of the military accused of rape between 1986 and 2006 can still be charged. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the Supreme Court, did not participate as the case was argued before her confirmation.
Before 1996, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) did not impose a time limit for prosecuting rape –which was punishable by death. In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) established a five-year statute of limitations. Congress abolished this in 2006.
In the opinion, the justices said the UCMJ interpretation of death as punishment for military rape cases carried no statute of limitations. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that military rape causes “special damage” as it undermines the unit cohesion. There is also the possibility that the crime could have international repercussions.
US vs. Briggs
The case involved Air Force Lt. Colonel Michael Briggs, who was found guilty in 2014 of raping another service member in a general court martial compromised of a military judge. He was sentenced to five months in prison – not exactly a death sentence –and dismissed from the Air Force. He also had to register as a sex offender.
Taping the Rapist’s Confession
The victim, SSgt. “DK” recorded Briggs’ confession to the 2005 rape in a 2013 phone call. He admitted that after spending the night drinking, he entered her room and pushed himself on her. Despite her pleas to stop, he continued raping her. The incident happened at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. She did not report the rape to authorities, but did tell others about it.
"I am sorry. I have been sorry. I will always be sorry for raping you," said Briggs on the recording. That call was later played in a military court.
Briggs was not accused of rape until 2013, although the assault took place in 2005. Although his attorney did not bring up the statute of limitations at the time of the court martial, it formed the basis of Briggs’ appeal.
In 2018 decision, the CAAF, breaking with precedent, ruled that there was a five-year statute of limitations regarding military rape prosecutions. It also ruled that military rape was no longer punishable by death, which was also the case in U.S. criminal law.
Not only was Brigg’s conviction dismissed, but so were two other Air Force rapists. They were Lt. Col. Humphrey Daniels, convicted of raping a woman in 1998, and Master Sgt. Richard Collins, who raped an airman in 2000. The ruling also prevented the hearing of at least 10 new cases.
The Supreme Court decision reinstates the convictions of all three men.
A Cancer Among the Organization
The incidence of rape in the military has risen by nearly 40 percent in recent years. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley called the increase in sexual assault “a cancer among the organization” and said it needed crushing.