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Routine shackling of defendants in courtroom is unconstitutional!

The 9th Circuit, en banc, just issued a blockbuster 6-5 decision in United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, Appeal No. 13-50562.  Routine shackling of defendants in the courtroom violates the 5th Amendment. It doesn’t matter whether there is a jury present or not. The trial court must make an individualized finding of dangerousness. Judge Kozinski, author of the majority opinion, wrote:

The most visible and public manifestation of our criminal justice system is the courtroom. Courtrooms are palaces of justice, imbued with a majesty that reflects the gravity of proceedings designed to deprive a person of liberty or even life. A member of the public who wanders into a criminal courtroom must immediately perceive that it is a place where justice is administered with due regard to individuals whom the law presumes to be innocent. That perception cannot prevail if defendants are marched in like convicts on a chain gang. Both the defendant and the public have the right to a dignified, inspiring and open court process. Thus, innocent defendants may not be shackled at any point in the courtroom unless there is an individualized showing of need. Op. at 25. (Emphasis supplied).

Trial lawyers: Are judges making individualized findings of dangerousness before your clients are shackled?


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Christian Thomas June 2, 2017, 6:47 am

    So Milwaukee routinely shackles all inmates and then chains them to the floor. This is most prejudicial in media cases where (especially for Intake or Prelim) they just love to show our clients walking in with shackles.

    How do we best argue that the 9th Circuits reasoning should apply to our cases?

  • Daniel chapman June 2, 2017, 6:58 am

    9th circuit, judge koziinski… This isn’t news.

  • admin June 2, 2017, 7:12 am

    This was an en banc decision by ALL of the 9th Circuit judges, 6-5 split.

  • Daniel Chapman June 3, 2017, 2:32 pm

    It has as much chance of being relevant in Wisconsin as the california decision ordering the prisons to release inmates due to overcrowding.

  • Bob Dvorak June 19, 2017, 10:58 am

    If you’re measuring what you do by the chance of success, the law will not advance, rights will continue to atrophy, your clients will be poorly served, and you will be doomed to mediocrity.

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