Is it anti-American to force a military member to leave his uniform at home?
SAN DIEGO - A local staff sergeant is being prohibited from wearing his military uniform in court because it might bias the jury in his favor.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Trompeter sat next to his wife Anita at the Hall of Justice courtroom defense table, dressed in a blue dress shirt and tie.
He did so on the order of San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer. Opposing attorneys had argued whether Trompeter could come to court in the uniform he wears at his U.S. Army base at Fort Bragg, N.C.
It is a civil lawsuit in the wake of a traffic accident in El Cajon in 2010. Anita was driving and collided with an SUV after she pulled away from a stop sign.
But it is not the merits of the case that has some people riled up. It is the uniform being forbidden.
Dan White is a local attorney and a veteran.
"It's an affront to me personally and, I think, to most veterans that you would ask about this … that in these discreet circumstances that he can't wear his uniform," said White.
Meyer determined that Trompeter's military service has nothing to do with the evidence and that wearing the uniform could unfairly influence the jury in his favor.
Michael Crowley is also a San Diego attorney who has served as a law professor. He told 10News, "The judge's obligation is a fair trial. If he thinks someone wearing a military uniform adds additional credibility, then he has an obligation to do something about it."
He added that a jury is supposed to judge testimony solely on presentation and credibility, and that bias, either way, should not enter the picture.
"Then the judge is going to take action if the uniform interferes with that," said Crowley.
"This is his uniform. It's his duty uniform. It's what he does, it's who he's all about and in my judgment, he has a right and indeed the obligation to wear that," he said.
Three men who were in the SUV are suing the couple for $50,000 each for injuries suffered in the accident.
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