Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. – John Wooden
Service members have been able to use a seemingly unheard of defense when charged with a crime. The so called “Good Soldier” defense allows defendants to call character witnesses to speak on their behalf. This can occur before, during, or after a conviction, and can influence the outcome of the case significantly.
The most recent example of this is the sexual assault case of LTC James Wilkerson. Wilkerson was charged with sexually assaulting a guest in his house. His trial resulted in a dishonorable discharge and one year in prison. Shortly after receiving dozens of letters from character witnesses and fellow service members, General Franklin reversed the sentence, and released LTC Wilkerson to be reinstated at his full rank.
Conceptually, the Good Soldier defense makes sense. In cases where there is a lot of ambiguity, it would appear that one’s past should matter as to whether or not it can be believed that a suspect actually committed the crime. The flip side does play true though; some of the worst criminals in history are referred to as the perfect neighbor. Predators are able to conduct such heinous crimes because they are good at hiding it. Whether they be mass murderers, sexual predators, or thieves, just because the suspect has not been convicted of the crime before does not mean that they could not have done it.
Here is the truth of it though. The Good Soldier defense allows for the practical application of the “good ol’ boys club” stereotype to continue: service members appear to be protected by their fellow service members and criminals are not justly prosecuted.
Enlisted members often see this being taken one step further because of the disconnect between the punishments for officers and enlisted. They see senior leaders protecting with one hand and destroying with the other – often with no difference between crimes. Even the wife of COL James Johnson III, charged with bigamy, adultery, forgery, and fraud, expressed her distaste at the punishment for her husband, believing the sentencing to be too light and that it did not go far enough by taking away his retirement benefits.
Today’s military leaders need to examine many aspects when determining a proper punishment for crimes committed. Often a good service member makes a poor decision and it quickly spins out of control. There are times when you can assist these individuals through programs like the Army Substance Abuse Program, behavioral health, or other forms of psychological counseling. Often though, the crimes initiate automatic separation proceedings. It is up to leaders to accept the fact that the only person who should speak on the behalf of the service member is the one who was there when the crime was reportedly committed. Everything else is just hearsay.
The biggest mistake in the use of the so called Good Soldier defense is that it only applies a reference towards the reputation of the service member previously and fails to assess the true character of the individual charged.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.