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What happens when someone is accused of sexual assault?

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Albert Perez Oyola, 18th Wing Legal Office NCO in charge of Military Justice talks about the steps involved in a sexual assault case.

What is the first thing that happens when someone gets accused of sexual assault?

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations initiates a full investigation on the sexual assault allegation.  The accused may answer questions from AFOSI, and/or they may choose to seek counsel from an attorney.

What's the next step? Are they notified? Does the legal office start building a case?

The accused is normally notified by AFOSI of the sexual assault investigation. Yes, the legal office builds a case to try to collect enough evidence to determine if they will recommend to the accused's commander to take the case to trial.

At what point do they get a lawyer or get charged?

The accused can obtain a lawyer at any time.  This typically happens after they've been informed of the sexual assault allegation through the Area Defense Counsel. They are charged through a process called "preferral of charges" where the commander formally accuses the member of the sexual assault crimes.

Are they pulled from their job during the investigation?

It depends on the circumstances.  In some cases, if the victim is also assigned to the accused's workplace, then the unit will probably reassign one of the two. The victim can also request that the accused be transferred to another base during the investigation.

When would a trial or court martial happen?

Trial would normally happen within 120 days of the preferral of charges, depending on the availability of the accused's attorney and the requested witnesses.

What happens if the accused is found guilty?

There are several life impacting consequences when found guilty of having committed sexual assault. First, the member will get a federal conviction on their record, which stays permanently. The member may also be required to register as a sex offender, and this too may remain permanently as a public record and heavily impacts their presence in society. A possible punishment is also a punitive discharge, and this impacts their ability to obtain employment in the United States through any employer. Finally, confinement is also a possibility and may range from no confinement up to life depending on the charges.

What happens if the accused is acquitted?

The member will return to their regular duties as a member of the United States Air Force. Any administrative holds that arose as a result of the allegations will be terminated and the member will again be allowed to PCS and promote.

For more information contact the 18th Wing Legal Office at 634-3300, or via cell phone 098-961-3300, or contact Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at 634-7272 or 098-961-7272.