May Crime Victim (on Active Duty but on Leave) Testify in His Military Uniform?

An interesting question, which Carver v. State (Oct. 31, 2013) answers “yes,” following several other such decisions:

After a jury trial, Rebecca Michelle Carver was convicted of pointing a firearm at another and reckless conduct…. Her sole [grounds for appeal] presents a question not previously considered in Georgia: whether the trial court erred in denying her motion in limine seeking to prohibit the victim [who was on active duty in the Navy but on leave for the trial] from wearing his military uniform at trial. Because Carver has not demonstrated that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion, we affirm.

The court cited various similar cases from other states; here’s a sample passage, from a 2006 Tennessee case:

Likewise, we find no error in allowing the victim in this case to testify dressed in her military uniform. While it may be true that the jury looked favorably upon a witness who was serving her count[r]y, we cannot automatically assume that the jury afforded her testimony more weight or credibility based solely on her appearance in military uniform. We find this little different from a police officer testifying in a police uniform. As argued by the State, whether a witness or a victim is a common laborer, an engineer, or a doctor, is a fact which may be considered by the jury but is clearly not determinative of the credibility of that person. Contrary to the Appellant’s argument, we cannot equate this to a situation where the defendant is forced to appear in prison attire. This issue is without merit.

The court notes that one case from another state barred a defendant from appearing in military attire, but concludes that it’s inapposite, without expressing an opinion on whether it’s correct on its own terms (I’m inclined to think that the two would be hard to reconcile within the same jurisdiction):

The only decision cited by Carver in support of her position, State v. Marquez, 145 N.M. 31, 193 P.3d 578 (N.M.App.2008), rev’d on other grounds, 147 N.M. 386, 223 P.3d 931 (N.M.2009), is inapposite here. In Marquez, the New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court concluding that a defendant’s wearing of a National Guard uniform at trial “could unfairly prejudice the jury.” We do not consider here the much-litigated question of a defendant’s courtroom attire. And Marquez itself notes that decisions affirming a trial court’s decision to allow the wearing of a uniform, “being in the opposite procedural posture, are not persuasive.”

The Georgia court then concludes:

Here, Carver simply speculates that the victim’s uniform “could have influenced the jury toward the State,” but provides no specific evidence to support this speculation. … “Defendant has presented only [her] own conclusions as to the effect of the victim’s appearance at trial in his military uniform.” …

In addition, the evidence that the victim was a member of the military on active duty was known to the jurors through other relevant evidence properly admitted at trial. Carver stated as justification for pointing the pistol at the victim that she and her husband had had a problem with people stealing from their chicken house, and that several individuals had trespassed on her property and entered her husband’s truck the day before the incident. She identified the victim as one of those trespassers. The victim testified, however, that he had been on active duty in Afghanistan for seven months and that the day of the incident was his “first day being home in probably almost a year.” And Carver’s counsel raised the issue of the victim’s military service in closing argument, arguing that the victim was not afraid of Carver or frightened by her behavior, because he “even made a joke about it and said I’ve had bigger guns waved,” and that the victim was serving overseas to protect citizens’ rights to a fair trial. As in Lane, supra, “[t]he impact of the uniforms themselves on jurors’ perceptions of witnesses they already know to be in the military is even more speculative.”