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ARLINGTON, Va. — Those convicted of killing a child face stiffer prison sentences under revisions to the Manual for Courts-Martial.

Recent changes increased the maximum sentences for manslaughter in cases where the victim is younger than 16 years old.

Servicemembers convicted of voluntary manslaughter in such cases could now face 20 years’ confinement, up from 15 years; and the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter has been increased from 10 years to 15 years, according to the changes.

The Army asked that the Joint Services Committee review the maximum sentences for manslaughter, said Robert Reed, of the Defense Department’s Office of General Counsel.

The move comes after some military jurors said they felt the old sentences were too lenient.

"The Army proposed the change based upon some feedback they received that in a couple of cases where the court-members (jurors) acquitted the accused of murder charges, convicted instead on manslaughter charges as a lesser-included offense, and then were dismayed to hear that the maximum punishment possible was only 10 years," Reed said in an e-mail on Monday.

The Army did not have specific information on the cases that prompted the review.

"It appears that there were anecdotal reports that panel members in a number of cases, I don’t know how many or the specifics, apparently considered the maximum punishments for manslaughter involving a child as low," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

The Joint Services Committee’s review determined that the manslaughter sentences were appropriate for cases in which the victim is an adult, but the penalties need to be higher when the victim is a child, Reed said.

"The bottom line is that the amendment brought military punishments more in line with the civilian structure depending upon whether the victim was an adult or child," he said.

Over the past 20 years, both individual states and Congress have increased penalties for crimes against children, especially sexual assaults, said Howard Davidson, of the American Bar Association.

"The logic has been that children are especially vulnerable victims and having stiff penalties provides an extra layer of protection," said Davidson, director of the association’s Center on Children and the Law.


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