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$20K Fine, No Jail Time For General's Sexual Misconduct
As the military works to curb sexual misconduct and Congress considers military justice reforms aimed at helping assault victims, the Reprimand, $20K Fine and no jail time for Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair in his sexual misconduct trial caused victims' advocates to point out that once again the system is all about cronyism.
The 51-year-old Sinclair, was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, but struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to lesser charges.
The charges stemmed from an affair Sinclair had with his accuser, an Army captain, that continued for several years while both served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The case began to unravel when the prosecution learned that Sinclair's accuser continued their affair after the alleged assault.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division was originally brought up on sexual assault charges punishable by life in prison. He was believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on such charges.
But earlier this week, prosecutors dropped those charges midway through the trial in a deal in which Sinclair pleaded guilty to committing adultery with one woman and conducting inappropriate relationships with two others by asking them for nude pictures and exchanging sexually explicit email. Adultery is a crime in the military.
While the charges against Sinclair carried a maximum of more than 20 years in prison, the plea bargain worked out by the defense and military prosecutors called for no more than 18 months.
The judge, Col. James Pohl, did not explain how he arrived at a much lighter sentence.
Under the sexual assault charges, Sinclair was accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her if she told anyone about their three-year adulterous affair in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The case started to crumble as Sinclair's lawyers hammered away at the woman's credibility and raised questions about whether Sinclair's commander improperly pressed ahead with a trial because of political considerations — namely, a desire to show the Army's resolve to combat sexual misconduct.
In addition the judge in the case determined that senior Army officials in the Pentagon unduly influenced the case when they rejected an earlier plea agreement, fearing political repercussions.
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey
The case unfolded with the Pentagon under heavy pressure to confront what has been called an epidemic of rape and other sexual misconduct in the military.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called the sentence "laughable."
"Even when the world is watching, the military has demonstrated their incompetence at meting out justice," Speier said in a statement. "This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is. This sentence is a mockery of military justice, a slap on the wrist nowhere close to being proportional to Sinclair's offenses."
While it has been reported on NPR that "The defense basically agreed, in the plea deal, that Gen. Sinclair should face jail time," Sinclair was not demoted or dismissed from the military. Any reduction in rank would be determined by a military board, once the general decides to retire. This he has subsequently done.
If Sinclair had not announced his retirement, an Army disciplinary board would have almost certainly forced him into it. Now the board will decide whether to demote him, which could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits during his retirement. Sinclair made about $145,000 a year in base pay.
Prosecutors had argued that the judge should throw Sinclair out of the Army and strip him of his benefits, while the defense said that would harm his wife and their two sons the most. Prosecutors did not ask the judge to send Sinclair to jail.
Greg Jacob of the Service Women's Action Network said the case demonstrates the need for legislation that would strip commanders of the authority to prosecute cases and give that power to seasoned military lawyers. The bill, backed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was defeated in the Senate earlier this month.
Gillibrand is expected to renew her effort to change military law this spring.
"This case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command," she said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who fought the bill, said the case reinforced her side of the argument.
"One of its lessons highlights what we already know — that commanders are often more aggressive than prosecutors in pursuing prosecutions and vetting these cases," Sarah Feldman said.
In another high-profile case Thursday, a military judge in Washington found former Naval Academy football player Joshua Tate not guilty of sexual assault. Three midshipmen were originally charged, but only one was court-martialed.
Prosecutors said the alleged victim was too drunk to consent to sex. She testified she didn't remember much about that night.
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