Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 1, 2017


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Court Rules En Banc That Routine Shackling Of Pretrial Detainees Is Unconstitutional


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


Courts cannot routinely shackle defendants “like a bear on a chain” and must instead decide on a case-by-case basis whether the restraints are necessary to prevent violence or escape, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.     

In a 6-5 en banc decision, the court said the former blanket policy of the Southern District of California—which was revised after the three-judge panel that originally heard the case said it was un­con­sti­tutional—violated the Fifth Amendment right to be free of unwarranted restraints.

The Ninth Circuit previously ruled that defendants have a right to be free of shackles and handcuffs in the presence of jurors, in part to maintain the presumption of innocence and prevent bias.

The ruling yesterday extended that right to all court proceedings with or without a jury.

“Criminal defendants, like any other party appearing in court, are entitled to enter the courtroom with their heads held high,” Judge Alex Kozinski for the court.

At issue was the practice of the San Diego-based district court of shackling almost all defendants during pretrial hearings. The court implemented the policy in 2013 after the U.S. Marshals Service highlighted security concerns.

Defendants—regardless of their individual characteristics—appeared before judges in leg shackles and handcuffs connected by a chain to a waistband, Kozinski explained.

He said one defendant had a fractured wrist but appeared in court wearing full restraints. Another who uses a wheelchair was also shackled.

He said courts cannot delegate decisions on using shackles to those who provide security, such as the U.S. Marshals Service.

 Kozinski said it was appropriate to hear the merits of the case, despite the fact the blanket policy no longer is in effect, because it might be reinstituted in the future.

He was joined in the opinion by Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas and Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Richard A. Paez, and Marsha S. Berzon, Senior Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote separately, saying she concurred in full but wanted to add her view that the dissent “ignores the degradation of human beings who stand before a court in chains without having been convicted, or in many instances, without even having been formally charged with any crime.”

In dissent, Judge Sandra Ikuta said the majority decision ignored U.S. Supreme Court direction on the issue, split with other federal appeals courts and put federal district courts at risk. She also argued that, even if the policy were to be reinstituted, the case is moot as to the individual detainees who challenged it.

In 2013, she noted, there were two separate assaults involving inmates inside courtrooms in the Southern District. In addition, the U.S. Marshals Service determined it couldn’t predict which detainees would present a danger.

Additionally, the agency dealt with a high volume of criminal defendants with reduced resources for courtroom protection, Ikuta said. She was joined by Judges Consuelo Callahan and Susan Graber and Senior Judges Diarmuid O’Scannlain and Barry Silverman.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, which defended the shackling policy, had no comment, spokeswoman Kelly Thornton said.

The ruling protects the right to liberty that has been part of the law since before the nation’s founding, said Reuben Cahn, executive director of Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., which challenged the shackling policy. Cahn said he knew of a few other federal district courts that had similar policies.

The case is United States v. Sanchez-Garcia, 13-50561.


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