Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Page 1


C.A. Invalidates Antelope Valley Juvenile Court Shackling Policy


By TINA BAY, Staff Writer


The use of physical restraints on minors appearing in juvenile delinquency court must be based on an individualized showing of necessity, rather than on a blanket shackling policy, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Div. Seven issued a writ setting aside an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard E. Naranjo, who had rejected a challenge to a policy of the Antelope Valley Juvenile Court.

Naranjo denied a motion brought by “Tiffany A.,” as she was identified, to bar the use of restraints on minors pursuant to the court’s blanket restraint policy.

Applicable to all juvenile delinquency matters heard in Department 285 of the Alfred McCourtney Juvenile Justice Center in Lancaster, the policy mandates that all minors appearing for juvenile court proceedings wear ankle shackles. No individualized determination of necessity is required.

Objection to Shackles

Tiffany A., as the court identified her, became the subject of a wardship petition in Antelope last year after taking a car belonging to her mother. Her counsel objected at her predisposition hearing to the fact that she was shackled with leg chains during the proceedings.

The attorney noted the court had not shown “a manifest need” for the restraints, and requested that the court have them removed.

Naranjo overruled the minor’s objection and denied her request, explaining that the policy existed because the courtroom lacked secure ingress and egress.

The department, which has four exit doors from the courtroom—some of which lead to unsecured exits, public areas or outside the building—is staffed by only one sheriff’s deputy assigned as a bailiff. According to the Sheriff’s sergeant in charge of security and custody at the courthouse, the risk of minors escaping the courtroom was significant given the design of the courtroom, and the location of the courthouse near a residential area where buildings were not designed with institutional security in mind.

The general policy of using ankle restraints on minors was justified by the sergeant’s opinion that shackling minors has prevented escape attempts and allowed order to be maintained at the courthouse.  The restraints were allegedly lightweight and “fairly unobtrusive,” allowing a minor to walk but not run, and remaining hidden from all spectators including the judge when the minor was seated at the counsel table with his or her feet underneath.

After Naranjo overruled Tiffany’s objection, the minor moved to prohibit the use of shackles on minors in the courtroom absent an individualized evidentiary showing of manifest need.

In denying the motion, the judge noted the absence of California caselaw on the issue. The only cases involving shackling pertained to criminal proceedings before a jury, which raised prejudice concerns not present in delinquency proceedings, he added.

Minors have always been required to come into court in “contained status,” i.e. with shackles preventing escape, because of the “security issue” raised by the courtroom’s design, the judge concluded.

Tiffany A. filed a writ of prohibition last August asking the Court of Appeal to set aside Naranjo’s order and directing him to grant her motion as to the policy.

Div. Seven designated the People of the State of California as the real party in interest and permitted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to file an amicus brief.  The justices rejected the sheriff’s request for an evidentiary hearing into the policy in lieu of a ruling on the merits.

California Caselaw

Reviewing state caselaw concerning the shackling of criminal defendants, the panel concluded that while the general security need of a facility was one consideration justifying the use of restraints, it was not the only one.

Justice Fred Woods, writing for the panel, pointed out that no case has endorsed the use of physical restraints based only on the defendant’s status in custody, the lack of courtroom security personnel or the inadequacy of the court facilities.

‘[T]he Juvenile Delinquency Court may not, as it did here, justify the use of shackles solely on the inadequacy of the courtroom facilities or the lack of available security personnel to monitor them,” Woods wrote.

Any shackling decision must be based on a case-by-case basis and grounded on the non-conforming conduct of an individual minor, he said.

The justices noted they were not bound by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in United States v. Howard, which upheld a district-wide shackling policy of the federal court for the Central District of California. That policy—implemented in 2003 by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Central District of California upon consultation with the magistrate judges—requires all criminal defendants to be shackled for their first appearance before a federal magistrate.

Woods cited numerous reasons why the rationale of Howard was inapplicable, including that the juvenile justice system relies on a less punitive approach to those who stand accused before the court.

The justice explained:

“[T]he rationale of the California cases—that the Constitution does not require juveniles to have the full complement of rights afforded adult defendants because to do so would introduce a tone of criminality into juvenile proceedings—would not be served by requiring all juveniles, irrespective of the charges against them, or their conduct in custody, to wear shackles during all court proceedings. The use of shackles in a courtroom absent a case-by-case, individual showing of need creates the very tone of criminality juvenile proceedings were intended to avoid.”

Deputy District Attorney Lael Rubin, who represented prosecutor’s on appeal, told the MetNews the office was “assessing what [its] options are at the moment.”

Local attorney Steven J. Renick, of Manning & Marder Kass Ellrod, Ramirez, which represented the sheriff, remarked that “there weren’t enough facts” for the justices to make a “blanket ruling.”

“There just wasn’t a real investigation of the facts,” he said. “There was a very quick motion in the juvenile court. The only facts that the Court of Appeal had were a declaration from one of our sergeants and a declaration from a deputy D.A. who had worked out there.”

Tiffany A.’s appellate counsel, Los Angeles County Deputy Alternate Public Defenders Felicia Grant and Stephanie Bedi, could not be reached for comment.

The case is Tiffany A. v. Superior Court (People), 07 S.O.S. 2524.


Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company