Hagel Seeks to End Ability of Military Chiefs to Overturn Convictions

Mike O'Brien

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants to take away the power of military commanders to overturn criminal convictions.

Mr. Hagel has ordered his staff to draw up legislation which would have to go before Congress.

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Lawmakers have already started looking into the issue following the uproar over an Air Force officer's decision to overturn a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case.

Mr. Hagel wants a new law in which cases would have to go through the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, with senior officers no longer able to reverse guilty findings.

The Defense Secretary does not have the authority to single-handedly change the law or to reverse the ruling in the Air Force case.

The move comes after Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, quashed the conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Wilkerson had been found guilty of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault on a civilian employee and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.

He was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service. After reviewing the case, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the verdict, CBS News reports.

Under the present rules, if a service member is found guilty and sentenced, the findings are not final until they are approved or disproved by the convening authority.

The convicted service member can appeal for clemency and the general officer — typically a major general or lieutenant general — seeks legal advice, reviews the trial record and considers information submitted by the accused.