Friday, November 6, 2020

Marine officer escapes punishment for stealing electronics, cosmetics from base

Officers are perceived by many, sometimes based on fact, to be treated more leniently for their misconduct than are enlisted personnel.

Related to the "fact," The Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps recently issued a letter to the Corps, reported in Task&Purpose, Marine commandant to leaders: Quit the 'soft relief' of fired officers. 23 October 2020 (a copy of White Letter 4-20 is included therein). While not directed to disposition of significant criminal activity, overall the call seems to direct a culture change in how officers are disciplined.

With that background in mind, Stars&Stripes reports that a South Korea-based Marine officer escapes punishment for stealing electronics, cosmetics from base.

A Marine lieutenant colonel found guilty of stealing hundreds of dollars in merchandise from a base exchange in South Korea has escaped punishment, according to a published report.

Lt. Col. Samuel K. Lee, 47, was convicted Sept. 11 at Camp Foster, Okinawa, of two counts of violating Article 121 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or larceny of non-military property valued at $1,000 or less, the military news website Task & Purpose reported Thursday, citing court records.

Several points based on the report.

  • There was a pretrial agreement.
  • SKL was prosecuted at special court-martial not a general court-martial.
(An enlisted person is exposed to a maximum that includes a bad conduct discharge (considered less severe than a dishonorable discharge), confinement for up to one year, a reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, and forfeiture of up to two-thirds pay for 12 months. Conviction at a general court-martial would expose the accused  up to at least five years confinement.)

  • Per R.C.M. 1003, Rule for Courts-Martial, Manual for Courts, a commissioned officer.
  • May not be dismissed (the officer equivalent of a dishonorable discharge.
  • May not be sentenced to confinement unless convicted at a general court-martial.
  • May not be sentenced to hard labor without confinement.
  • The conviction will count as a federal conviction, and many states may consider the conviction a felony for state law purposes such as licencing and for employment.
Personally, during my 41 years, I'm only aware of two officers punished at a special court-martial; my colleagues report similar anecdotal "evidence" that SPCM for officers is rare.

"“When senior officers commit misconduct, the first question that springs to mind is how many junior Marines has this officer been responsible for punishing for equal or lesser crimes,” she said. “Officers should be held to the highest of standards, as we learn from commissioning and throughout our career.”

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