George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

M-VETS Helps a Survivor of Military Sexual Trauma Clear Erroneous UCMJ Titling Decision

In July 2020, the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) successfully cleared the name of a survivor of military sexual trauma from the Army Crimes Records Center (CRC) database. The survivor is an Army veteran who served on active duty in the 1990s. Two of her fellow soldiers sexually assaulted her while she was on active duty and she was titled with False Swearing and Sodomy in connection with the attacks.

The survivor reported that she was sexually assaulted and was provided a medical examination at the local military hospital. After the medical exam was completed, special agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) questioned the survivor about the sexual assaults. Subsequently, the CID agents questioned the two soldiers about the sexual assaults, which they claimed were consensual encounters. Although the criminal investigation would continue for months, after concluding their initial interviews, the CID agents stated they did not believe the survivor and summarily titled her under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for False Swearing and Sodomy.

A few weeks after the criminal investigation began, one of the soldiers who attacked the survivor changed his story and confessed to CID agents that the survivor had not consented to the acts that night and he, in fact, had sexually assaulted her. Further, there were no criminal or administrative actions taken against the survivor. She served out the remainder of her time on active duty and was honorably discharged from the Army. The survivor moved to Virginia in 2014 and eventually applied to receive her nursing license. Unfortunately, her application was delayed because she had been titled in the CRC database for False Swearing and Sodomy in 1991. Shocked that her name was in this database, the survivor sought out the help of M-VETS.

“M-VETS never gave up during this process and told me they would continue to fight for me and do whatever they could to help. They kept their promise. It made me feel so much better when I actually heard in their voices how unfair they felt I had been treated. They were always professional, but I could tell they cared,” said the survivor. “I expected the students would do a good job, but having dealt with lawyers in the past, I never expected such a fine argument. It was very impressive and obviously made the difference in granting my request. What they did to help me means more than any amount of money. I can breathe now and continue the process to get my Virginia nursing license!”

“I am glad our client reached out to us for legal help,” said M-VETS Director Timothy MacArthur. “The titling process in the military has the potential to negatively affect a person’s life even if they were never charged with or found guilty of a crime. The military views the titling process as an operational process and not a legal process. Once you have been titled with an offense in the CRC system, it is practically impossible to remove your name from that system. This is what was happening to our client and fortunately we were able to help her out and clear her name from the database,” MacArthur said.

“The titling process changed in 1992 and prior to that time the evidentiary standard to title someone as a subject of an investigation was probable cause,” MacArthur explained. “Thankfully, we were able to petition the Army CID command and convince them that there was not probable cause at the time to title the survivor with those offenses and they agreed. This matter took over three years to successfully resolve and five M-VETS student-advisors were able to help our client clear her name. This should allow the process for her application for a Virginia nursing license to continue unimpeded. I’m proud of the work our student-advisors put into this matter and want to thank them for all their efforts,” MacArthur continued.

M-VETS provides free legal representation to veterans, active duty servicemembers, and their families while allowing law students to gain practical legal experience under the supervision of practicing attorneys. M-VETS provides representation in a variety of matters including Virginia civil litigation matters, uncontested divorces, consumer protection matters, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the VA and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and VA disability benefit appeals.