Is Shackling Defendant with Leg Restraints During Trial OK?
If a fair trial is one goal of our justice system, do such restraints on defendant make a fair trial impossible? Will defendant be unfairly prejudiced? The following case explores this scenario.Main Point: Shackling a Defendant with Leg Restraints During Double Murder Jury Trial Proper When Defendant Indicates Plans to Escape.
Charles Michael Hedlund and James Erin McKinney were convicted in Arizona of first degree murder of another person, arising from two separate violent incidents in 1991.
During a pre-trial hearing in 1992, Deputy Sheriff Jack Lane became aware that Hedlund and McKinney had a plan to escape. The plan was that one of them would “jump on one of the guards, take his on uniform and his weapon and one of them would put the uniform and they would walk out together. They would handcuff the guard and leave him there.” Lane heard this information from another inmate. Apparently, McKinney also tried to escape earlier, immediately after being arrested.
The trial court was advised of this plan and ordered that both defendants wear leg braces during trial for courtroom safety. The judge decided leg braces, if covered by the inmates’ pants, were less prejudicial than manning the courtroom with additional deputies.
Hedlund’s counsel challenged the leg braces, arguing that McKinney was the flight risk and not his client. The court denied the request, reasoning that both defendants were being tried together, in court together, so there was danger of them acting together according to the plan. The court tried to minimize any potential prejudice by making the leg brace less visible. The court ensured that defendants would be seated in the courtroom before the juries arrived so the jurors would not see defendants walking in stiff-legged in the braces.
The jury found both Hedlund and McKinney guilty. The jury found that the leg braces did not have any impact on their verdict.
The trial court sentenced Hedlund to death and he appealed. There were many grounds for appeal, but this article will only discuss the ruling by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding a jury trial wherein defendants were fitted with leg braces. Was the judge’s decision on this an abuse of discretion?
In its ruling, Charles Michael Hedlund v. Charles L. Ryan (2014 DJDAR 5099), the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that the use of shackling was inherently prejudicial, but was permitted and justified to further an essential state interest in preventing the escape of a prisoner. Holbrook v. Flynn (1986) 475 U.S. 560, 568-69. The court even cited to Illinois v. Allen (1970), 397 U.S. 337, 344, in which the court approved of fully binding and gagging an obstreperous defendant, and reminded the reader that “internal security is peculiarly a matter normally left to the discretion of prison administrators” Rhodes v. Chapman (1981) 452 U.S. 337, 350, n. 14.
The court rejected Hedlund’s argument that the court was obligated to use less restrictive alternative, pointing out that the case Hedlund’s counsel cited to was not binding.
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