Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, September 16, 2006


Page 1


Ninth Circuit Upholds Shackling Policy for Central District Court


By TINA BAY, Staff Writer


A district-wide shackling policy implemented by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Central District of California requiring all custodial defendants to wear leg irons in their initial appearance before a magistrate judge does not violate the Due Process Clause, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Granting U.S. Attorney Debra Yang’s February 10 petition for panel rehearing,  Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and  Judges Ronald M. Gould and Richard R. Clifton withdrew their November 15, 2005 opinion and issued a new decision affirming U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins’s order upholding the shackling policy.

Enacted in 2003 upon consultation with the magistrate judges, the policy applies to arrested, in-custody defendants at their first court appearance where the magistrate judge reads them their rights, appoints counsel if necessary, sets preliminary hearing dates, and sets or denies bond.

The Federal Public Defender’s office had challenged the policy on behalf of seventeen defendants whose motions to appear without the leg restraints were denied by various magistrate judges.

Petition For Rehearing

Schroeder and Gould, with Clifton dissenting, had taken the position last November that the general shackling policy lacked adequate justification.  Writing for the court, the chief judge had concluded the agency did not show that its impingement on defendants’ freedoms and courtroom decorum was reasonably related to a legitimate goal.  She also suggested that district judges had been overly deferential to the Marshals Service.

The U.S. attorney subsequently urged the panel to “prevent possible courtroom tragedy” by correcting the “erroneous standard” created by the majority opinion.

“While the panel majority opinion leaves open the possibility that such a policy could be upheld based on a more developed record, the magistrate judges should not be required to attempt to meet the majority’s erroneously stringent necessity standard or suffer an inability to take appropriate measures to ensure safety in their courtrooms,” the petition asserted.

As requested, the panel in Friday’s opinion changed postures and unanimously expressed deference to the Marshals Service.

Again writing for the court, Schroeder this time said:

“The policy comes within the Supreme Court’s admonition that courts should rely heavily on professional expertise in determining the proper means for carrying out security responsibilities.”

Though noting the policy clearly impinges on defendants’ liberties and detracted from courtroom decorum, Schroeder concluded that the marshals did in fact provide adequate justification for the policy.

Legitimate Purpose

It is reasonably related to a legitimate government purpose, she explained, because it enables understaffed security officers to accomplish their job of providing courtroom security in a large space.  Additionally, she wrote, the policy does not require full restraints, as did a prior policy, and provides defendants with the option to move for removal of the shackles based on an individualized showing of extenuating circumstances.

“The security concerns addressed by this policy emerge due to the Central District’s practice of conducting proceedings in a large courtroom on the third floor of the Roybal Courthouse, in the presence of multiple defendants, where the risks of conflict, violence, or escape are heightened,” Schroeder said, concluding there was no evidence that the Marshals Service’s security concerns were exaggerated.

Assistant. U.S. Attorney Becky S. Walker told the MetNews the government was pleased that the panel granted the requested relief and issued a new opinion.

“I think that this is a very, pretty minimal restraint and justified by the security concerns,” she said.

But Deputy Public Defender Carlton Frederick Gunn, who argued the consolidated appeals, said he was very disappointed by the court’s new ruling.

 “I think the whole development and institution of this policy in the first place was disappointing,” he said, noting that the opinion did not say courts must implement the policy, but rather said only that they can. 

A deputy public defender since 1983, Gunn said the policy was not only demeaning to everyone involved in the criminal justice system but “a real example of overkill.”

“I’ve probably been in courtrooms watching what defendants do and how they behave for longer than most, if not all, of the deputy marshals who are claiming this policy is so necessary,” Gunn said, adding his office may or may not file a petition for review.

The case is United States v. Howard, 03-50524.


Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company