Last month, Lt. Amanda Serfess – trial counsel at Region Legal Service Office Naval District Washington – trained local JAG community and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) personnel. During two lively learning events, she spoke in-depth about changes brought about by the Military Justice Act of 2016 (MJA 16).
When MJA 16 was enacted on Jan. 1, 2019, it resulted in expansive and consequential reforms to the entire military justice system. To adapt to these changes, the worldwide Navy JAG community participated in a series of baseline training events. However, additional, more detailed training on key reforms are helping Serfess, as well as her colleagues in law enforcement and litigation, prepare for and respond to seen and unforeseen challenges.
“In some ways, we have to learn as we go, because every circuit judge will likely handle these changes a little differently,” said Serfess. “But we’re trying to get ahead of any issues whenever we can. In addition to the formal training we all received, we are trying to do more informal training sessions about the new rules every few weeks.”
Among the more significant changes brought about by MJA 16 are modified processes related to prereferral warrants and investigative subpoenas. Now, NCIS and trial counsel are more empowered to collect potentially inculpatory evidence – such as emails and phone records – before an Article 32 hearing is convened. Serfess’s February training sessions focused on this crucial topic. They took place at the Washington Navy Yard and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, and included approximately 30 agents and legal professionals from the D.C. are and Annapolis, Md. Additional learning events hosted by Serfess may take place at other Naval District Washington locations in the future.
Serfess shares her training materials and the feedback she receives at these learning events with the JAG community’s Trial Counsel Assistance Program (TCAP). TCAP provides advice to courtroom practitioners throughout the organization, serving as a resource during every phase of pre-trial investigation and court-martial litigation. With help from TCAP, Serfess and her military justice colleagues are learning from and supporting one another, ensuring the implementation of MJA 16 is as seamless as possible. Bravo Zulu!