WASHINGTON (CN) — Taking up three overturned convictions Friday, the Supreme Court said it will decide whether the military properly limits the prosecution of rapes that occurred before 2006.
The Trump administration brought the consolidated appeals in the cases of F-16 instructor pilot Michael Briggs and two other Air Force members, Richard Collins and Humphrey Daniels.
Briggs was charged in 2014 with the 2005 rape of a female member of his squadron. A year earlier, the Air Force captain’s victim obtained the proof she needed to charge Briggs by surreptitiously recording a phone call with him in which she brought up the night he had forced himself on her after a night of heavy drinking. In his own words, Briggs said, “I will always be sorry for raping you.”
This landed him with a guilty conviction, but the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overturned the ruling in 2018 after highlighting a statute of limitations put in place that very year.
Although there was no such time limit under the Uniform Code of Military Justice in effect when Briggs faced trial, the new law allows prosecution for rapes that occurred between 1986 and 2006 only if it was discovered and charged within five years.
U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that the CAAF erred in this reversal.
“Recognizing that sexual assault within the military is devastating to the morale, discipline, and effectiveness of our Armed Forces, but also difficult to uncover, Congress long made rape a capital offense and has enabled rape to be prosecuted whenever it is discovered,” the 79-page petition for certiorari states. “Now, however, the CAAF has closed the door on prosecuting rapes that occurred before 2006 — even admitted rapes like the one at issue here — unless the rape was reported and charged within five years (i.e., by 2011 at the latest). That result contravenes the statutory text, Congress’s evident intent to root out and punish military rape, and the military’s constitutional latitude to punish military crimes more strictly than civilian ones. And it will prevent the military from holding rapists accountable in a number of cases.”
According to the administration’s petition, a case like Briggs’ in which a rape victim comes forward years after the trauma has occurred is not unique. Citing a U.S. Department of Defense report, it says that military victims “chronically underreport” sexual assaults for a variety of reasons and that some fear “reprisal or retaliation” and believe that “nothing will happen to the perpetrator.”
Collins and Humphreys were convicted for rapes in 2000 and 1998, respectively. These convictions were also overturned.
Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up the cases.