About the Office of Special Trial Counsel

The Office of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC) is an independent prosecutorial organization in the Department of the Air Force (DAF). OSTC Authority is independent from both DAF command structures and the DAF Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC). The Lead Special Trial Counsel, a general officer, reports directly to the Secretary of the Air Force, without intervening authority.

In January 2021, the President of the United States directed the Secretary of Defense to launch a commission focused on pursuing solutions to address sexual assault in the military. The Independent Review Commission (IRC) on Sexual Assault was established in February of 2021. The IRC published a report on their findings, which later prompted Congressional action to make changes to the military justice system. Subsequent National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) in Fiscal Years (FY) 2022 and 2023 propelled these changes:

  • FY22 NDAA, Section 531 - established OSTC, giving it exclusive authority to determine if a reported offense is a covered offense, and exclusive authority over  disposition of those offenses. It also included a provision for OSTC’s discretionary authority over known and/or related offense(s).  
    • Covered offenses are 14 categories of victim-based crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Known offenses are non-covered offenses allegedly committed by a person accused of a covered offense.  Related offenses are non-covered offenses allegedly committed by a victim or witness to an alleged covered offense.  
  • FY23 NDAA, Section 541 - Congress voted to include substantiated formal complaints of Sexual Harassment to the list of covered offenses over which OSTC exercises exclusive authority, effective 1 January 2025. This NDAA also discussed residual prosecutorial duties and other judicial function of traditional convening authorities (e.g., grants of immunity, ordering of depositions, hiring of experts, etc.) and directed that such duties be transferred to the authority of a military judge, Special Trial Counsel (STC), or other appropriate authority. 

OSTC is an integrated and unified participant in the administration of military justice, partnering with commanders, law enforcement, and legal offices to ensure accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other victim-based crimes. OSTC leads a collaborative effort with law enforcement and the installation legal office to investigate and prosecute offenses under its authority. Installation judge advocates continue to serve as assistant trial counsel on covered offense courts-martial under the direction of assigned Special Trial Counsel.

Commanders remain a critical stakeholder in military justice and continue to be responsible for command climate and good order and discipline.