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Supreme Court rules rape cases before 2006 may be prosecuted, overturning military court

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 11, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the rape convictions of three Air Force airmen, reversing a ruling from the military’s top court dismissing their cases because they fell outside the statute of limitations.

Thursday’s 8-0 decision stated that a five-year statute of limitations does not apply to military rape cases and that they can be prosecuted at any time.

The case concerned the 2014 conviction of Lt. Col. Michael Briggs for the 2005 rape of a subordinate after the woman reported it in 2013.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces last year reversed Briggs’ five-month jail sentence and dismissal from the service. The appeals court decided that a 1977 Supreme Court decision banning the death penalty for rape meant that rape was not a military capital offense — and thus was not exempt from the five-year statutory limit for most military crimes.

Although Congress in a 2006 law had specifically said that rape could be prosecuted “at any time without limitation,” CAAF ruled that the law wasn’t retroactive.

That decision led to the rape convictions of Briggs and at least three other service members being vacated and prevented the Defense Department from pursuing new reports of rapes alleged to have been committed from 1986 to 2006.

The justices found that the military code weighed “heavily in favor of the government’s interpretation” of the law to prosecute rape claims going back to the 1980s.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett was not on the bench when the case was heard.

Harmony Allen, who was raped and beaten by Master Sgt. Richard D. Collins in 2000 – a separate case which was prosecuted in 2017 and also dismissed by the CAAF ruling – said that the Supreme Court ruling had brought her “peace.”

“For years, I had to live with the fact that my rapist was set free with nothing stopping him from doing to another innocent woman what he did to me,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s decision changes that, and after all these years, I can finally take a deep breath knowing that justice has been served.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com
Twitter:@montgomerynance