The Marine Corps' new Victims' Legal Counsel Organization provides legal advice to victims and even legal representation if they choose to take their case to court. (Lance Cpl. James Smith / Marine Corps)
A new Marine Corps program created through a Defense Department mandate will provide victims of sexual assault and other crimes with free legal counsel and even representation by a Marine judge advocate if they decide to take their case to court.
The Marine Corps Victims’ Legal Counsel Organization, which became fully operational Jan. 1, connects victims with experienced Marine attorneys who can explain legal actions and options, discuss a case in full confidentiality, and independently represent their interests.
While some of the military services define their roles more narrowly, the Marine Corps is offering VLCO services to all who are eligible under the statute 10 USC §1044, a group that can include military retirees, dependents, reservists and even some civilian employees of the federal government, as well as active-duty service members.
The Marine Corps and other military service branches were ordered to create their own versions of a victims’ legal support organization in a move designed to aid victims of sexual assault, but victims of other crimes are also eligible for assistance, said Col. Carol Joyce, officer in charge of the VLCO. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 16, Joyce said, its four regional offices held about 90 consultations. Only about 60 of those, she said, were with people whose cases were related to sexual assault.
The VLCO now has some 15 military attorneys and nine legal specialists providing services to victims, Joyce said. She screened all of the judge advocates, she said, to be sure they were qualified to take on this demanding and sensitive task.
“They had to have experience in the courtroom with complex cases,” she said. “We wanted people who were savvy and had the experience base to go into the courtroom with an organization like this.”
The Marine Corps VLCO has four regional offices that correspond to the existing Legal Services Support Sections: Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Okinawa, Japan; and Quantico, Va. Other VLCO offices will be located at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island, S.C.; Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, Calif; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Joyce said.
Joyce stressed that programs and services previously designed to aid victims aren’t going anywhere. Marines and other eligible individuals will still have access to the Victim and Witness Assistance Program, uniformed victim advocates, sexual assault response coordinators and other services. Joyce described the VLCO as a “cutting-edge” step in bringing resolution to military victims.
“If an individual victim wants to pursue this matter through the military justice process, they now have their own attorney,” she said. “I think this is really key; this is the distinction. Because having your own attorney really empowers you to want to go forward. And it also instills confidence from these victims in the military justice system.”