Soldier found guilty, but jury decides against punishment
February 12, 2004
In an unusual twist of military justice, a soldier has been found guilty of a serious crime, but given no punishment.
Sgt. Mary Reed, 24, with the Hanau, Germany-based 127th Aviation Support Battalion, was accused of whipping her 9-year-old stepson with a belt after counselors noticed welts on the back of the boy’s arms and leg when he showed up for day camp over the summer.
Charged with child abuse, Reed pleaded not guilty, saying her actions were “reasonable parental discipline,” according to her lead attorney, Capt. Will A. Helixon.
A six-member general court-martial jury of three officers and three enlisted soldiers found Reed guilty of battery on a minor at the conclusion of her trial in Hanau on Monday.
According to military law, the maximum punishment could have included two years’ confinement, reduction to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge. Lead prosecutor Capt. Jonathan Hirsch argued for seven to 14 months in jail and a bad-conduct discharge.
In sentencing Tuesday, however, the jury announced that Reed was not to be punished.
“In most cases, except for the most severe such as murder, the judge does instruct the jury before sentencing that one of their options is no punishment,” said Bill Roche, an Army spokesman. “It’s very unusual, but completely legal, to adjudicate with no punishment.”
Reed’s actions after being charged with the crime may have helped her cause, Helixon said.
“I think to Sgt. Reed’s benefit, she immediately confessed and immediately went into counseling and parenting classes every other week and that made a huge difference at sentencing,” he said.
Helixon also noted that Reed had given birth 10 days prior to the incident and that her husband, also a soldier, was deployed to Iraq when it occurred.
Still, the lack of punishment at a general court-martial is unusual, according to David Court, a civilian lawyer based in Frankfurt, who has practiced military law in Europe for nearly 30 years.
“I can count on one hand the number of the times I’ve even heard of something like this,” he said.
He suggested two possibilities why the panel didn’t hand down any punishment. “One could be, the panel is saying [a crime] happened, but it’s an overreaction to send it to general court-martial,” he said. “Or they could be saying that a federal conviction is punishment enough. Some states also have administrative consequences, such as having to register as a child abuser.”
During Reed’s sentencing, John Hartz, a social worker in Hanau testifying on Reed’s behalf, said that the prognosis for the family was very good and it would be harmful if it were broken up at this point, Helixon said.
Despite her plea, Reed conceded during testimony that she had “gone overboard” in disciplining her son, Helixon said.
The Military Judges’ Benchbook, Army Pamphlet 27-9, which is used by Army judges to draft clear instructions to jurors, affirms the right of parents to discipline their children with corporal punishment as long as it is “for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the child, including the prevention or punishment of the child’s misconduct, and the force used may not be unreasonable or excessive.”
“Unreasonable or excessive force” the Benchbook explains, is anything that poses a “substantial risk of causing death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, extreme mental distress, or gross degradation.”