In a 6-5 opinion (United States v. Sanchez-Gomez), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just found the San Diego District Court’s 2013 shackling policy for pretrial defendants unconstitutional- “likening the court’s policy to treating inmates “like a bear on a chain.” While it is a significant ruling, the opinion is moot for the San Diego criminal court system because it no longer has the same restraint policy from 2013. The San Diego federal court had enacted the policy after the U.S. Marshals Service cited safety concerns due to understaffing and an uptick in violence. Federal Defenders of San Diego, a non-profit which provides public defense for defendants, sued over the policy on behalf of four people charged with crimes such as illegal re-entry, drug importation, and misuse of a passport.
U.S. District Chief Judge Barry T. Moskowitz decided to defer to the marshals on security, allowing the default policy to be the use of five-point restraints — leg and hand shackles connected by a belly band — during routine hearings. Now, overturning the lower court, the 9th Circuit ruling would only allow for shackling if it would serve a compelling purpose. The majority opinion found that “a blanket policy applied to all defendants infuses the courtroom with a prison atmosphere.” Rather, the higher court noted that each defendant must be assessed on a case-by case basis on whether they should be shackled on both the hands and feet. The judges noted that the “constitutional liberties” of defendants must be defended.
Your Constitutional Rights
It is widely accepted that pretrial detainees have the same rights as convicted prisoners.
You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in a courtroom. While the U.S. constitution does not explicitly use these words, the 14th Amendment guarantee to due process denotes that even defendants have the right to fairness, dignity, respect, and privacy within our criminal justice system. This concept of human dignity is one that has been refined by the courts in its interpretation of the constitution. The Supreme Court in Deck v. Missouri held that the use of visible shackles during jury proceedings would prejudice the jury against the defendant. The recent 9th Circuit ruling clarified the scope of the right to dignity to pretrial proceedings.
Your are also presumed to be innocent until found guilty. See Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468 (1978). The 9th circuit clarifies that shackling before a defendant is even convicted or sentenced weakens that presumption. Continue reading