By David Jackson, USA TODAY
A military judge says two service members cannot be punitively discharged -- even if found guilty -- because of "unlawful command influence" reflected in comments by President Obama.
Citing court documents, Stars and Stripes reports that "Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled during pretrial hearings in two sexual assault cases -- U.S. vs. Johnson and U.S. vs. Fuentes -- that comments made by Obama as commander in chief would unduly influence any potential sentencing."
Attorneys for the defendants cited these May 7 comments by Obama on sexual assault in the military:
"The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this ... I expect consequences ... So I don't just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period."
From Stars and Stripes:
"The judge's pretrial ruling means that if either defendant is found guilty, whether by a jury or a military judge, they cannot receive a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge. Sailors found guilty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice's Article 120, which covers several sexual crimes including assault and rape, generally receive punitive discharges.
"'A member of the public would not hear the President's statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable,' Fulton stated. 'A member of the public would draw the connection between the 'dishonorable discharge' required by the President and a punitive discharge approved by the convening authority.
"'The strain on the system created by asking a convening authority to disregard [Obama's] statement in this environment would be too much to sustain public confidence.'"