With the U.S. Supreme Court now planning to look at a key case, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., claimed more momentum for “Harmony’s Law” which his office insisted will “help prevent hundreds of rapists—who were convicted and found guilty of rape in the military—from being freed from jail on a misconstrued technicality.”
Mast introduced the bill in April and the congressman’s office offered some of the reasons he was behind the proposal.
“The bill is named after Harmony Allen, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., who was raped during her third month in the Air Force by her instructor. Despite being found guilty and sentenced to jail time, he was subsequently freed due to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces misinterpreting the congressionally-mandated statute of limitations,” Mast’s office noted.
“I still bear the scars of what he did to me 16 years ago, and I have endured immense pain and suffering for justice, but my rapist is now free because of this absurd ruling that has now set a precedent that does not follow the intent of Congress,” Allen said. “Knowing my rapist has been out there for the past 16 years has haunted me. The fact that he’s been able to stay in the military that I loved so dearly, get promoted and possibly have the chance to hurt others horrifies me. What’s worse is that allowing the rapists in the military to use this unlawful technicality will not only allow my rapist to go free, but other rapists who committed rapes for nearly two decades could avoid being held accountable and go free. They will be given a clean slate, receive medical benefits, back pay, and retirement even though they were rightfully convicted. This is not justice and should not be allowed.”
“Harmony’s rapist was set free because of an absurd appeals court ruling that directly contradicts Congress’ intent to hold military members who commit rape accountable,” Mast said. “This is a massive miscarriage of justice for Harmony and many others, which is why Congress needs to intervene to prevent possibly hundreds of rapists from being set free without repercussion.”
Mast’s office offered some of the legal details when he introduced the proposal.
“Although Congress has made its intent clear in the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) of Fiscal Years 1987 and 2006 that these heinous offenses will have no statute of limitations in the military, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in U.S. v. Mangahas that the statute of limitations for sexual assaults that occurred before 2006 is five years. In doing so, the court incorrectly overruled the military’s standard in place from 1986 to 2006 that rape could ‘be tried and punished at any time without limitation’ and misinterpreted the congressional intent of the 2006 NDAA by failing to apply it to cases that occurred prior to 2006,” Mast’s office noted.
“As a result, starting last year, convicted sexual offenders in the military are now able to appeal their convictions and be set free if they committed the offense before 2006 but were not charged within 5 years,” the congressman’s office continued. “Two convictions have already been overturned, including Harmony Allen’s case, and there are dozens more in the appellate queue. There may well be hundreds of convicted rapists released early from their sentence and acquitted of their crimes by the time the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has an opportunity to rule on every Mangahas appeal.”
Mast’s proposal would have the House Office of General Counsel “represent the interests of Congress in any cases related to the Mangahas decision” and have Congress ensure that “the passage of time should not bar the prosecution of rape or sexual assault under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.” The bill also ends statutes of limitations for sexual offenses in the military against children.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) threw its support behind the proposal back in June. Carlos Fuentes, the director of the VFW national legislative session, sent Mast a letter in support of the bill.
“On behalf of the 1.6 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliary, I am pleased to offer our support for….Harmony’s Law,” Fuentes wrote. “Convicted sexual offenders who committed offenses before 2006 are now able to appeal their convictions and be set free. This important bill would rightfully clarify the statute of limitations for sexual offenses in the military, hold convicted sexual adults offenders accountable, and restore justice to victims.”
In the meantime, Mast has reeled in plenty cosponsors including Democrat U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch and Darren Soto and Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Greg Steube and Ted Yoho from the Florida delegation.
Mast’s bill got a boost last week when the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Allen‘s case, meaning it would hear arguments on it.
“Today is an incredibly important day for Harmony Allen, her family and every victim of military sexual assault who has experienced this massive miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments for Harmony’s case is the right one, and I am hopeful that they will finally right this injustice so that the United States can hold military members who commit rape accountable,” Mast said on Friday. “As Harmony continues her fight for justice, I will keep working to support her efforts to prevent possibly hundreds of rapists from being set free without repercussion.”
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.