Congress passed the Military Justice Act of 2016 in order to reform and update the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). However, it did not go into effect until this January 1, 2019. Part of the implementation required that the judge advocates (a/k/a JAGs) and paralegals in each branch were trained up on the new code. The last update of such magnitude occurred in 1983.
You can access the 2019 Manual for Courts-Martial here: https://jsc.defense.gov/Military-Law/Current-Publications-and-Updates/
The Air Force also created a graphic to highlight some of the changes: https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1723217/uniform-code-of-military-justice-changes/.
Some of the major reforms include establishing a fixed number of members on a panel for courts-martial, expanding opportunities for convicted service members to appeal their convictions, and creating a publicly accessible system for court-martial documents similar to systems in civilian criminal justice systems. Other new offenses might look familiar, as they include activities that were prohibited but are now enumerated in the code, such as “prohibited activities with military recruit or trainee by person in position of special trust.” The Act also created other offenses, like retaliation against an individual who reports or plans to report a crime, and fraudulent use of credit cards. Under the crime of “extra marital sexual conduct,” more commonly known as adultery, the new act has broadened the definition to include same-sex relationships, oral sex, and other activities outside intercourse. Legal separation is a new affirmative defense to adultery. The Act states, “In order for the affirmative defense to apply, both parties to the conduct must either be legally separated or unmarried. That is, it is not an affirmative defense if the accused is legally separated but the co-actor is still married.”
Stay tuned as we plan to explore the new UCMJ and MCM with more in depth blogs in the coming weeks!