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House OKs mandatory minimum sentence for sex assault convictions in military court

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Angered by the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, the House on Thursday endorsed a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a member of the armed services convicted of rape or sexual assault in a military court.

By voice vote, the House approved the additional punishment as part of a series of steps lawmakers have taken to tackle the growing problem of sexual assault. The provisions are contained in a sweeping Defense policy bill for the 2014 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“Being in a military uniform should not be a get out of jail card,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said as the House began work on more than 170 amendments to the Defense bill.

Lawmakers hope to complete the measure on Friday but must reconcile it with a Senate version.

Congress is determined to shake up the military's culture and give victims of sexual assault the confidence that if they report a crime their allegations won't be dismissed or they won't face retaliation.

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee approved provisions in the Defense bill that included stripping military commanders of the power to overturn convictions in rape and sexual assault cases. The panel also voted to require that anyone found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge.

Officers, commissioned warrant officers, cadets and midshipmen convicted of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or attempts to commit those offenses would be dismissed under a mandatory minimum sentence. Enlisted personnel and non-commissioned warrant officers convicted of similar crimes would be dishonorably discharged.

Turner and other lawmakers argued on Thursday that they needed to add a minimum sentence to that punishment.

“Unfortunately under current law, if you commit a sexual assault on a base that's in a state that first-degree sexual assault has a mandatory minimum, you might actually avoid a mandatory minimum. And that has happened,” Turner said.

Several Democratic women opposed the step, arguing that while confinement was appropriate, Congress should wait for a Defense Department report on sentencing guidelines.

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