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Current Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of USATDS

The United States Army Trial Defense Service (USATDS or TDS) is an independent Field Operating Agency within the US Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, and is part of the US Army Legal Services Agency (USALSA). The TDS motto: "Defending Those Who Defend America."

A Colonel, Judge Advocate, heads the Trial Defense Service Office of the Chief, located in Fort Belvoir. TDS consists of the Chief, TDS, the Executive Officer, the Chief of Defense Counsel Assistance Program, several training attorneys, a Senior Legal Administrator Warrant Officer, a Senior Enlisted Paralegal, three administrative staff, and nearly 240 TDS personnel worldwide. Under the Chief of TDS, there are nine Regional Defense Counsel (RDC) responsible for overseeing defense services within a geographic region (see below). Each RDC oversees several Senior Defense Counsel (SDC), who manage field offices with the responsibility of providing defense services for a specific post, command, or area. Some field offices oversee geographically separate branch offices.

AR 27-10 attaches all TDS attorneys to the Trial Defense Service with duty at a particular installation and requires the commander of the installation or organization and the respective SJA or supporting legal office to provide administrative and logistical support to defense counsel assigned to the installation, regardless of the lack of a command relationship.

The bulk of TDS is made up of US Army Reserve attorneys and paralegals. The reserve component of the Trial Defense Service consists of the 22nd Legal Support Organization and the 154th Legal Support Organization. The 22nd LSO is responsible for reserve TDS services west of the Mississippi River (except Minnesota), Alaska, Hawaii and South Korea; and the 154th LSO is responsible for TDS service east of the Mississippi and in Minnesota, Germany, and Puerto Rico. Both LSOs are divided into teams that are spread throughout their areas of responsibility.


The Trial Defense Service provides conflict-free legal services to soldiers who are facing adverse criminal or administrative actions at no cost to the soldier. Unlike public defenders in civilian jurisdictions, there is no means test required to determine eligibility; all soldiers are entitled to TDS representation by virtue of being subject to the UCMJ. The various categories of representation fall into three priorities.

  • Priority 1: Criminal representation at trials by court-martial is the top priority of TDS and takes precedence over all other actions. Defense Counsel make motions, voir dire the panel, offer evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses, present argument, and negotiate on their client's behalf.
  • Priority 2: Assistance with administrative separations (actions to discharge soldiers prior to the end of their service), non-judicial punishments, and summary courts-martial.
  • Priority 3: All other actions, including advising soldiers of their rights as a suspect and responding to letters of reprimand. Priority 3 actions may also be handled by legal assistance attorneys, depending on the availability of TDS.


The former insignia of TDS.

In the Army military justice system, the main decision maker is the general court-martial convening authority (GCMCA), usually a division, post, or area commander. Each GCMCA has a Staff Judge Advocate, who serves as the legal advisor to the general. The Staff Judge Advocate also supervises a number of subordinate attorneys assigned to his or her particular unit. Collectively, the attorneys assigned to a particular command are called the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

Prior to the late 1970s, the duty of defense counsel was just another assignment within the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, much like the trial counsel (military prosecutor). To some, this created the appearance of a conflict of interest when two opposing counsel worked within the same office. To others, especially some soldier clients, the fact that their defense counsel wore the same unit patch as the prosecuting attorney and worked in the same building created the impression that their attorney was on the general's side and not theirs.

Between 1978 and 1980, the Army Chief of Staff approved an experimental program to determine whether it would be feasible to create a separate command solely for Army defense counsel. The pilot program was deemed a success, and in December 1980, the Trial Defense Service was born.

Because of the limited number of TDS attorneys (even the Army's largest installation, has only about 10 TDS attorneys), the TDS organization was originally not large enough to have its own unit patch (shoulder sleeve insignia). For 25 years, the TDS "unit patch" was World War II-vintage patch of the Army Service Forces. This patch had come to be designated the Department of the Army Staff Support patch and is worn by Department of the Army field operating agencies,[1] including the US Army Safety Center and the Defense Commissary Agency. In August 2006, however, a distinctive unit patch for TDS was approved for wear. From the Institute of Heraldry's description: "The shield-shaped patch reflects the nature of legal defense work. The sword supporting scales of justice represents the unit’s mission to defend soldiers at courts-martial and separations boards; seeking justice for all soldiers. The sword also signifies that Trial Defense Service personnel are soldiers as well as lawyers. The glory, mullet, and the red border are adapted from the Department of the Army Staff Support patch previously authorized for wear by the Trial Defense Service, and provides a historical link to its organizational heritage."

File:Southern Iraq Branch Office.jpg

The former Southern Iraq TDS branch office on COB Adder in Tallil.

Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP “Multicam”) patch.

On Memorial Day, 28 May 2012, the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service, CENTCOM Region, officially inaugurated the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service (TDS) Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP “Multicam”) patch. The Department of the Army approved the OCP TDS patch as an official Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI) for the Multicam uniform.

TDS Regions

Currently, the active component of the Trial Defense Service has attorneys and paralegals stationed in nine geographic regions.

File:Region IX.jpg

Unofficial logo of Region IX TDS; Arabic for "Region 9" superimposed over DA Staff Support patch.


External links

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