Proper dress and conduct in civilian courts

  • Published
  • By 460th Space Wing
  • Judge Advocate Office
Have you been subpoenaed to appear in a civilian court to testify on behalf of yourself or another individual? If so, then you may not be aware that you must first receive military approval before you are allowed to wear your uniform.

First, determine whether you are being summoned as a defendant, plaintiff or a witness in the proceeding. Your status in the proceeding determines who would approve whether or not you may wear your Air Force uniform, regardless of whether you are on active duty, Reserves, honorably retired or an honorably discharged veteran of war.

Problems sometimes arise when military members are called to appear as defendants in civilian court proceedings. Pursuant to AFI 36-2903, Dress and Appearance of Air Force Personnel, paragraph 1.4.8, a member is not permitted to wear the uniform when the conviction would bring discredit to the Air Force. In all court proceedings, the Air Force, and moreover, its members, must protect the Air Force's professional image.

Hence, a Service member who is subpoenaed to testify as a defendant where a conviction would bring discredit upon the Air Force or the uniform is not authorized to wear his or her uniform. To do so would not only serve to discredit the Air Force, but may also result in creating an image of impropriety, in that the individual is attempting to use the uniform to persuade the judge or jury to rule in his or her favor.

If you are subpoenaed to testify as a plaintiff in a civilian court proceeding and you are participating in an unofficial capacity, then the direction is clear: you are not authorized to wear your uniform, in accordance with AFI 51-301, Civil Litigation, paragraph 9.16.3. In addition, you must testify in a non-duty status. A basic rule of thumb is if the Air Force is not compensating you for your attendance then you are not participating in an official capacity.

On the other hand, if you are called to testify as a witness, you must first consult the Staff Judge Advocate before you plan on wearing your military uniform to court. If you are a witness in a civilian criminal proceeding you may receive permission for permissive temporary duty.

If you are a medical provider or hospital personnel and you have been called as a witness in a civilian court proceeding, then you must consult the medical law consultants at your permanent station hospital as the release authority who will determine whether or not you may appear for a witness testimony, deposition, interview or otherwise.

When the United States is a party in a civilian court proceeding or has an interest in the legal matter at hand then legal services, headquarters, or the appropriate Air Force law division, in accordance with the Department of Justice, will determine whether or not Air Force personnel may participate in the proceeding.

If you or someone you supervise will be participating in a civilian court proceeding please contact the base legal office to receive your required briefing. For additional information, contact the base legal office at 847-6444.