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Rape Conviction Overturned by Military Court Due to Jury Composition

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By Debbie Gregory.

The nation’s highest military court has thrown out the 2012 rape conviction of a Coast Guard enlisted man because admirals and prosecutors packed the seven-member jury with five women, four of whom held jobs as advocates for victims of sexual assault.

In a 5-0 ruling that could change how the military conducts sex abuse trials, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces tossed out the conviction of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John C. Riesbeck.

The decision speaks to the way politics influences command choices regarding military justice. From the Coast Guard commandant down to an appellate court to the original trial judge, the high court said all contributed to a “stain on the military justice system.”

Riesbeck claimed a biased jury panel had infringed on his right to a fair trial after he was convicted. He was sentenced to three months’ confinement, demotion, and a bad conduct discharge.

Four admirals had a hand in the final panel: Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft; Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown, then-commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area & Defense Forces West; Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, then-Pacific Area deputy commander; and Rear Adm. June Ryan, then-Pacific Area chief of staff.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but its 40,000 personnel — about 10 percent of whom are women — come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as do all military personnel.

“It is gratifying to see a female judge pushing back against the ‘Me Too’ meme by insisting on due process for the accused Coast Guardsman as well as the accuser in this case,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. “The court also deserves praise for holding accountable Admiral Zukunft, who was involved in what Judge Margaret A. Ryan described as ‘gender-based court stacking’ with professional victims advocates.”

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