Article 120

Article 120 is a punitive article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Article 120 once was titled “Rape and Carnal knowledge,” but was revised and re-titled to “Rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct.”

The title change was not mere semantics. When revised, Article 120 was substantially expanded to broadly prohibit a wider variety of sexual behaviors, including acts which are traditionally classified as harassment rather than assault.

The revision of Article 120 created 36 separate offenses, some of which — including indecent exposure and indecent assault — were previously addressed in a different section of the UCMJ (Article 134).  In addition, a punitive article (120a) was added to address the offense of stalking.

Article 120 defines offenses including rape, aggravated sexual assault, rape of a child, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and wrongful sexual contact, among other unlawful acts.  Punishments are severe after conviction of an Article 120 violation, even when servicemen are accused of lesser offenses classified as “other sexual misconduct.”

Intense public scrutiny and strong political pressure have resulted in a substantial increase in the number of courts-martial against service members under Article 120 as the military has been pressured into cracking down on perceived problems with sexual misconduct.

Service members may be charged on the basis of evidence which would not be sufficient to proceed with a sexual offense case in a civilian court. Military training courses aimed at increasing conviction rates have also resulted in more service members being disciplined, especially as the burden of proof has increasingly shifted to defendants. Increasingly, defendants are effectively being forced to prove their innocence rather than the government being required to prove guilt. This shift is occurring both because of official changes to the law, and because of internal pressure on jury members to vote for conviction.

Those accused of Article 120 violations must understand that their future is at risk because of the broad definition of sexually-based offenses and because of a political climate favoring conviction. An experienced civilian military attorney can provide invaluable assistance in responding to accusations of Article 120 violations.

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