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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 7, 1999


I have signed an executive order amending the Manual for Courts-Martial, which sets out procedures for criminal trials in the armed forces. The amendments make a number of desirable changes to modernize the rules of evidence that apply to court-martial proceedings and to take into account recent court decisions. These changes have been recommended by a committee of experts representing all the military services.

There are four principal changes. First, the new rules provide that evidence that a violent crime was a hate crime may be presented to the sentencing authority as an aggravating factor in the determination of the appropriate sentence. As in the case of laws that apply in civilian courts, this rule sends a strong message that violence based on hatred will not be tolerated. In particular, the rules provide that the sentencing authority may consider whether the offense was motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Second, the rules provide special procedures for cases in which there are allegations of child abuse and children are called to testify. The new rules allow for televised testimony from a location other than the courtroom and provide for other special procedures to make it as easy as possible for children who are witnesses to testify completely and accurately. These provisions are similar to those applied in most civilian courts.

Third, the order adds a new evidentiary rule to court-martial proceedings providing that most statements to a psychotherapist are privileged. The purpose of this change is to encourage candid confidential communications between patients and mental health professionals. It is similar to a privilege that is recognized by the federal courts and courts of virtually all states. The privilege is not absolute and the exceptions make clear that communications must still be disclosed when necessary for the safety and security of military personnel and in other compelling cases.

Finally, the new rules create the offense of reckless endangerment as an additional crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This offense is similar to that found in most state codes.