Paralegal Perspective of the Special Victims’ Counsel Program

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Victims of crimes that are sexual in nature have a voice in the military justice system. In January 2013, the Air Force implemented the Special Victims’ Counsel Program that provides victims of sexual assault with an attorney who can protect their rights and interests.

Although the program will turn 4 years old on Jan. 28, many people are still not aware of the benefits of the program. As a Special Victims’ Paralegal, it is my responsibility to assist in answering questions about the process and victim eligibility.

Generally, Active Duty, Reserve, and Guard members qualify for an SVC provided the individual files a restricted or unrestricted report and the sexual assault was not pre-service. Dependents (both spouses and children), Department of Defense civilians, and retirees (and retiree dependents) are usually eligible provided the individual files a report, and the alleged perpetrator is currently and at the time of the offense subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If an individual does not immediately qualify for an SVC, they may always request an exception.

As a SVP, I review the referral forms, help assign an SVC for those who qualify, and prepare an Extraordinary Circumstances Request for those that do not immediately qualify. The Extraordinary Circumstances Request is routed through our chain of command for approval or denial. Denial authority rests exclusively with the two-star commander of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency. However, even if a request is denied, our program can still provide victims with a list of available resources through the military and the civilian sector.

All bases have an SVC that covers the respective installation. The SVC may not be physically located at the base, but services are available nonetheless. The program is divided into circuits. Colorado falls under the central circuit, which consists of 14 attorneys and six paralegals. Our program does not limit travel for attorneys and paralegals. This means that even if an SVC is not located with the victim, the SVC will travel for all significant military justice events, such as an Article 32 hearing, discharge board, or trial.

I have been a SVP for a year, and have assisted attorneys with courts and interviews at numerous bases. My goal as an SVP is to be another point person to assist clients when needed. The SVC Program has successfully assisted in giving victims a voice, protecting victims’ rights, helping victims understand their options regarding restricted and unrestricted reports, and allowing victims to navigate the military justice process smoothly.

Most importantly we work for the victim--not the commander or base leadership. Having an SVC helps victims feel empowered throughout the process. If you have questions about the SVC Program, please contact your local SVC office, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, or legal office at 719-556-4871.

Below I have included a list of the Crime Victims’ Rights under the UCMJ (10 U.S.C. § 806b) for reference.

Crime Victims’ Rights Under the UCMJ (10 U.S.C. § 806b):

(1) The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.

(2) The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any of the following:

(A) A public hearing concerning the continuation of confinement prior to trial of the accused.

(B) A preliminary hearing under Article 32 relating to this offense.

(C) A court-martial relating to the offense.

(D) A public proceeding of the service clemency and parole board relating to the offense.

(E) The release or escape of the accused, unless such notice may endanger the safety of any person.

(3) The right not to be excluded from any public hearing or proceeding described in paragraph (2) unless the military judge or investigating officer, as applicable, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim of an offense under this chapter would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that hearing or proceeding.

(4) The right to be reasonably heard at any of the following:

(A) A public hearing concerning the continuation of confinement prior to trial of the accused.

(B) A sentencing hearing relating to the offense.

(C) A public proceeding of the service clemency and parole board relating to the offense.

(5) The reasonable right to confer with the counsel representing the Government at any proceeding described in paragraph (2).

(6) The right to receive restitution as provided in law.

(7) The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.

(8) The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the dignity and privacy of the victim.