Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled that President Barack Obama's comments on military sexual assault could affect the sentencing in two cases, according to Stars and Stripes.
During pretrial hearings in the cases, Fulton said “unlawful command influence” derived from Obama's remarks could influence a potential sentencing in the two cases, according to according to court documents obtained by Stars and Stripes. The judge's ruling could have an impact on other sexual assault cases in the military.
On May 7, Obama said he has “no tolerance” for sexual assault in the military.
"I expect consequences,” Obama said. “So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable – prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
The judge’s pretrial ruling means that if either defendant is found guilty, whether by a jury or a military judge, they cannot receive a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge. Sailors found guilty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s Article 120, which covers several sexual crimes including assault and rape, generally receive punitive discharges.
“A member of the public would not hear the President’s statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable,” Fulton stated. “A member of the public would draw the connection between the ‘dishonorable discharge’ required by the President and a punitive discharge approved by the convening authority.
“The strain on the system created by asking a convening authority to disregard [Obama’s] statement in this environment would be too much to sustain public confidence.”
Obama has made several comments chastising sexual assault in the military, at one point directing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to "step up our game exponentially" to prevent further incidents. Obama has also expressed concern over how military sexual assaults "threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong."
"That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they've got no place in the greatest military on Earth," Obama said in a May address to U.S. Naval Academy graduates.
Click here for more on Fulton's ruling from Stars and Stripes.