U.S. Army Trial Defense Service protects Soldiers
June 9, 2008
On Nov. 7, 1980, the Army permanently established the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service after a two-year test program to determine whether Army defense counsel could operate independently outside of the control of the Staff Judge Advocate.
Prior to this, defense attorneys worked for the Staff Judge Advocate alongside prosecutors. Many Soldiers felt that this was a conflict of interest since the person who would be defending them was also working for the person who was helping the command take legal action against them. The fact that the defense counsel and the prosecution wore the same unit patches on their uniforms did not help matters, either. With TDS established as a completely independent organization outside of the Staff Judge Advocate, this conflict of interest was eliminated.
The mission of the TDS can best be described by its motto: "Defending Those Who Defend America." The primary function of TDS is, and always has been, to provide free legal defense representation to Soldiers pending court-martial, nonjudicial punishment, administrative separation, and other adverse action. Defense counsel are also provided by TDS to Soldiers who are suspected of an offense and have requested counsel.
Today, TDS operates as a division of the United States Army Legal Services Agency, which provides logistical support for all TDS offices. With roughly 130 active-duty officers working in offices in nine different regions around the globe, TDS is truly a worldwide organization. Each trial defense counsel is supervised by a senior defense counsel, who is in turn supervised by one of nine regional defense chiefs. The regional defense chiefs are supervised by the Chief of TDS. This structure provides a stovepipe chain of command for defense counsel and the independence to zealously represent Soldiers.
The attorneys working for TDS have several duties, which are broken down into three priorities.
Priority I duties include representing Soldiers at general and special courts-martial, pretrial investigations and advising soldiers that are being confined prior to their trial. Priority II duties include counseling Soldiers pending summary courts-martial charges, facing formal nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, or where suspected of committing an offense, and representing Soldiers at lineups and for administrative separations. Priority III duties include those duties not listed above and are the primary responsibility of the supported SJA office.
The Pacific Rim Region is located on the Korean Peninsula and is responsible for providing legal representation to Soldiers throughout Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines. The Region consists of fives offices located in Areas I, II, III, and IV of South Korea and Okinawa.
Soldiers requiring assistance from the Pacific Rim Region are guaranteed to receive competent and zealous representation from the attorneys and staff regarding their legal concerns. A Soldier's TDS attorney works exclusively for him or her and will not reveal any information regarding their case to anyone but the client. This allows Soldiers to be open, upfront and truthful with their attorneys in the representation of Soldiers.
TDS is here expressly to help Soldiers. One of the key elements of our Nation's legal system is that everyone has the right to a defense. TDS ensures that American Soldiers have that right as well.