November 20, 2004
Cops in uniform sway jurors, lawyer says
By Toby Coleman
A few weeks ago, Pocahontas County lawyer Martin Saffer began campaigning to limit when police officers may don their uniforms before a jury.
He says it’s time to restrict the common practice because the badge and the outfit can unfairly boost the credibility of a police officer’s testimony in some jurors’ eyes.
“Let’s face it,” Saffer said, “what we wear is part of our civilization, it distinguishes us, it tells people who we are, what we are and what you are to think of us.”
Saffer believes judges should let police officers wear their uniforms on the witness stand only when it is relevant to the allegations.
Police officers should be able testify in uniform against a person accused of battery of a police officer, for instance, but not against a person accused of buying drugs in an undercover sting, he said.
So far, Saffer has not been able to convince his local judges to adopt his suggestions.
Both of his county’s circuit court judges, Jim Rowe and Frank Jolliffe, refused to tell police when they could wear their uniforms on the witness stand. Rowe said that it is “speculative” to say that a police uniform sways jurors any more than a haircut.
Saffer is up against a mountain of precedent and tradition in this fight. Although West Virginia has no rules on the subject, most of the states that have looked into it have decided that police can wear their uniforms on the stand.
Still, Saffer is considering taking the question to the state Supreme Court. (snip)
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