Counsel office provides assistance to crime victims
The Victim’s Legal Counsel Office provides legal guidance to military service members who have been the victim of a crime.
The VLCO was established by Congress in October 2013 with the mission of providing legal counsel for any victims of crime, including simple theft, larceny, assault and sexual assault should they desire it.
“When a crime is committed and the victim makes the choice to report it, they can often be worried about what they would have to do,” said Capt. Benjamin A. Mills, a judge advocate with Legal Services Support Section, Company A, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “They can come to us for advice on the procedure, paperwork and we can also provide them with counsel when they are being interviewed by investigators and going to court.”
The personnel within the VLCO have complete confidentiality meaning they will not disclose any information discussed unless they are given a court order, express permission from their client, or if they believe withholding information will inflict death or serious harm to their client.
“As soon as they walk in through the door to our office, anything discussed is protected under attorney-client privilege,” said Sgt. Jason R. Clader, a Madison, Alabama, native, and a legal services specialist with LSSS. “Our services are provided solely toward helping the victim through the process of the investigation and court.”
In order to qualify for representation by the VLCO in court, the case must be tried in a military tribunal. For example, if a Marine were to be assaulted by a civilian while in town, any lawful action would be pursued in a civilian court where they are not able to represent the client. However, VLCO will still be allowed to provide legal counsel to the client outside of court such as during police investigations, according to Mills.
“Sometimes a victim will be more afraid of the unknown, like what will happen during the whole process,” said Mills, a Munising, Michigan, native. “We stick with our clients from the day they walk into our office to the end of the court proceedings to provide the best counsel we can. We also fight to protect the rights of our clients such as the right to their privacy regarding matters not having to do with the case.”
Something many may not realize is that the personnel in the VLCO are not mandatory reporters. This means that should a victim of sexual assault come to them, they are not required to create a restricted or unrestricted report, according to Mills. “We are not (uniform) victim’s advocates,” said Mills. “Our clients can come to us just to talk to someone without filing a report. We will advise for at least filing a restricted report to conserve the evidence, but we are not required to.”
The VLCO has offices in each branch of the U.S. Armed Services and are located on the West Coast, East Coast and the Pacific. This allows for direct access as they can guide any caller to the closest office in order to provide better and more immediate assistance. The regional VLCO office on Okinawa can be reached 24/7 at 080-8372-3107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Crime doesn’t have working hours,” said Clader. “That is why we make sure to provide access no matter what time it is.”