Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Eastern District Court Moves Toward Adopting Policy of Fully Shackling Detained Criminal Defendants
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California is moving toward adopting a local rule that would require detained defendants to be fully shackled during most non-jury court proceedings, a court spokesperson said.
The court last Tuesday issued General Order No. 449, instituting a full shackling policy for the Sacramento and Fresno courthouses, pending approval of proposed local rule CRIM 43-401 by the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit.
Pursuant to the general order and local rule adoption procedures, the proposed rule is currently out for a 45-day public comment period.
The rule provides that unless a presiding judge determines otherwise, detained defendants are to be fully restrained with leg shackles, waist chains, and handcuffs during initial appearances and most other subsequent hearings. Different restrictions apply for Rule 11 guilty pleas and proceedings expected to last at least 30 minutes where the defendant is seated at the defense table except when testifying.
The rule would be inapplicable to trial proceedings where a jury is being chosen or has been impaneled.
The court based its general order largely on the recommendation of the U.S. marshal, who circulated an open letter to Eastern District judges last December defending the use of full restraints on detainees in all pretrial proceedings.
In findings attached to its order, the court referenced the agency’s letter, which explained, for example, that Eastern District courts did not have hold areas or barriers in the courts that would allow for more limited use of more individual restraints. The letter also cited an increase in prisoner population and deficiency in staffing.
Chief Deputy Marshal Randy Becker told the MetNews that the general order and proposed local rule simply formalize a long-standing practice in the district’s Fresno and Sacramento courthouses of fully restraining prisoners during court proceedings.
The practice had been in place for years without comment until the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals published its decision last November in the case of United States v. Howard, Becker said. In that decision—recently depublished and replaced with a new opinion—the court struck down as unconstitutional the Central District’s policy requiring detained defendants to wear leg shackles when making their initial appearances.
The court published a new opinion on rehearing last Friday, in which it said the marshal provided adequate justification for the policy implemented in consultation with Central District judges.
Becker said that deputy federal public defenders in the Eastern District began raising concerns about their district’s shackling policy after the original Howard decision, which then prompted his agency to send a memorandum to the judges.
Shackling policies vary across the 94 districts in the nation, Becker told the MetNews, and the violent behavior of prisoners in the Eastern District necessitates the use of full restraints in the courtroom.
He noted that the U.S. Marshals Service is currently putting together a national policy that would support the use of full restraints in court.
“I feel fairly confident that we’ll maintain our current status,” Becker said.
Victoria Minor, clerk of the court for the Eastern District, said that the approval process for the rule, which began three days before the Ninth Circuit published its new Howard opinion supporting the use of restraints in court, would not be abbreviated or changed as a result of the opinion.
“It certainly validates the need for a rule,” she said. “Court circumstances vary from location to location, and in this case, the safety of everyone is a primary mission.”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company