Child pornography, premeditated murder, high-profile cases of recruit abuse by drill instructors, drug distribution rings, cybercrimes. As a JAG officer in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than six years, Jenna E. Reed LL.M. ’18 prosecuted and defended some of the most serious cases in that branch of the military, focusing on violent and special victims crimes, including shaken-baby cases and others involving children.
At the regional defense office at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, Reed, who joined the Marine Corps in 2010 after graduating from Villanova University law school, defended more than 34 federal criminal cases, landing a number of acquittals through her tireless and imaginative lawyering, according to her commanding officers. While eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her son Barrett, now 21 months old, Reed traveled to the West Coast to defend a Marine charged with the murder of his own child; all federal charges against him were dismissed.
So exceptional a lawyer was Reed that in 2016 she was chosen from among 120 of her peers as Defense Counsel of the Year for the entire Marine Corps. “Simply put, Captain Reed has established herself as the premier litigator within Marine Corps Defense Services Organization,” her commanding officer wrote. “Her personal sacrifice and dedication to clients is second to none.”
In August, Reed left the Marine Corps to matriculate at Harvard Law School, where this year she is a Criminal Justice Policy Program student fellow, studying how prosecutors across the country can advance community outreach efforts including reentry programs and crime prevention agendas. She remains in the Marine Corps Reserves, traveling to Parris Island, S.C., one weekend a month to serve as the staff judge advocate to the base commander, advising on courts martial, sexual assault prevention programs, and criminal investigations. Her HLS tuition is covered through the GI Bill and with a matching grant from HLS through the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“It’s such a different experience to go from practicing and constant litigation to being able to take a step back and look at the big picture of where our country is currently in terms of criminal justice,” she says. “I am very grateful for this opportunity to learn from some of our nation’s most skilled advocates and renowned academics.”
After HLS, Reed hopes to become an assistant U.S. attorney in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice, and she’ll intern this spring at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. “I see joining the DOJ as a continuation of my public service,” says Reed, who in November will be promoted to the rank of Major, and who hopes to become a military judge in the Reserves. “I believe that prosecutors have immense power to make positive change within the community and criminal justice system. Whether inside or outside the DOJ, I hope to continue studying and advancing criminal justice reform.”
Prompted to join the Marines in order to serve her country after the terrorist attacks of 9-11—although, at her parents’ behest, she didn’t commit until she was in college—Reed’s courtroom skills, mentorship of younger lawyers, and conduct as a Marine garnered the highest superlatives from her supervisors. “The top captain I have ever reviewed, and in the top 1% of company grade officers with whom I have ever served,” wrote one. Another said that Reed was “the best company-grade judge advocate I have served with in 28 years of service,” and added that she has “unlimited potential.” She is also qualified as an expert in the pistol and rifle, and is a green belt in Marine Corps martial arts.
For three years before she became a defense counsel, Reed served as chief prosecutor—and one of two female prosecutors—at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, in Parris Island (Over 93 percent of the officers in the U.S. Marine Corps are men.) There, she handled over 100 federal criminal cases, including 14 jury trials and prosecuted 30 general and special courts-martial as lead counsel. She had a high success rate including in a high-profile sexual assault case deemed unwinnable by most experts. In another high-profile trial in 2012-13 with more than 70 witnesses, Reed secured a conviction against a former drill instructor who forced a recruit to do exercises in liquid bleach, injuring him so badly he required skin grafts.
“What really makes the difference when working one of these complex and potentially sensitive cases is your leadership, and I’ve been blessed to have had some of the best leaders the Marine Corps has to offer, both as a prosecutor and as a defense counsel,” she says. “And something unique to the military is engagement and mentorship from the bench. I consider the judges I have practiced in front of some of my closest mentors.”
One of Reed’s most demanding prosecution cases was a complex court martial of a Marine for a series of charges including rape, aggravated sexual assault of two children and an adult, and production of child pornography. After investigating and preparing the case for a year, Reed secured a conviction at court martial, and a 40-year prison sentence for the defendant. In that case and others, Reed’s skill and care for child victims and their families was “unparalleled among her peers,” a commanding officer wrote of her. In nominating her for the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, awarded to Reed in 2014, an officer wrote, “Both the victims and their families expressed a renewed trust in the U.S. Marine Corps after their prolonged personal interactions with Captain Reed.”
“I keep in contact with the youngest survivor and her family to this day,” said Reed, who lives in Arlington, Mass., with her son and her husband, Stewart, a director of sales for a computer software company. “Her mother sends me photos of landmark events like school dances and new pets. It’s so rewarding—she is thriving.”