Friday, February 1, 2008
Court of Appeal Overturns Conviction of Shackled Defendant
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Soledad prison inmate convicted of assaulting another prisoner is entitled to a new trial because he was shackled during trial without a finding of good cause, the Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The justices overturned Greg McDaniel’s second-strike conviction for assault by a prisoner and aggravated assault, rejecting the attorney general’s contention that because jurors would have known he was a prisoner whether he was shackled or not, the sight of him wearing shackles caused no additional prejudice.
“[W]e we do not find the effect of knowing that a defendant is a prison inmate to be equivalent to the impact of being present in court with a visibly shackled defendant,” Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing wrote.
“Nor does the knowledge that defendant was a prison inmate have a tendency to lessen the prejudicial reactions that jurors might have to seeing a defendant in shackles,” he continued. “Furthermore, it is not the fact that the defendant is a prison inmate that makes shackling prejudicial; rather, it is the jurors’ visual, psychological, and emotional response to seeing a defendant so physically restrained and differentiated from everyone else and the natural tendency to wonder whether the defendant is a violent and dangerous person and worry about safety.”
Fight With Prisoner
McDaniel was charged following an August 2003 incident in which he and another inmate were seen fighting with Michael Odom, a fellow prisoner. While it was undisputed that he punched Odom, McDaniel contended that Odom started the fight and that he was merely defending himself.
A doctor testified that Odom suffered a laceration, but no knife or other weapon was found and McDaniel denied having or seeing one.
Monterey Superior Court Judge Marla Anderson allowed McDaniel to have one hand unshackled during trial in order to take notes, and told jurors not to consider the fact that he was shackled for any purpose. But that instruction was inadequate to cure the presumptive prejudice, the presiding justice said.
Normally, he acknowledged, jurors are presumed to follow the instructions of the judge. But that presumption is undermined where the jurors have already seen the defendant testify in shackles and may have inferred from the shackling that the defendant’s testimony is not credible.
Rushing also rejected the contention that the probation report—which indicated that McDaniel had previously been convicted of stalking and making terrorist threats toward the mother of his child, and shooting at her dwelling while it was inhabited; that he was under a court order barring him from having contact with her or the child; that he belonged to a prison gang; and that he continued to beat Odom despite officers’ efforts to restrain him—established reasonable cause for the shackling.
“Even if we assume for purposes of argument only that this information would have justified shackling defendant had the court noted it on the record after a formal determination, the Attorney General cites no authority for the proposition that information collected in a probation report prepared after trial may be used to retrospectively justify the shackling of a defendant where the trial court fails to make a determination on the record before trial,” the presiding justice said. “We decline to adopt such an approach.”
The case is People v. McDaniel, 08 S.O.S. 723.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company