Ninth Circuit Cracks Down on|Routine Shackling in San Diego Federal Court

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – Cutting costs doesn’t justify the Southern District of California’s policy of shackling pretrial detainees for most court appearances, the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday.
     In March 2013, the U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of California wrote to the district’s chief judge, requesting that the court adopt a policy of producing defendants in full restraints for most nonjury proceedings. Full restraints include handcuffs and leg shackles connected to a belly band by a chain.
     The judge responded later that year, stating that the district’s judges would defer to the request with the exception of guilty pleas, sentencing hearings, and if a judge asks the marshals to remove the restraints.
     The Federal Defenders of San Diego filed a challenge to the policy on behalf of three defendants, but the judge denied the challenge.
     Writing for a three-judge panel, Ninth Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder found the policy runs a risk of violating the defendants’ constitutional rights, even though the Ninth Circuit has allowed the use of leg shackles during appearances at the Roybal Courthouse in Los Angeles.
     “The shackles at issue here are also a greater affront to the dignity and decorum of the proceedings, because the shackles themselves are more conspicuous and are used at many different stages of a criminal case,” Schroeder wrote.
     The marshals in this case advocated for the policy based on financial burdens and staffing issues within the agency.
     “In its attempt to buttress the need for shackling in this case, the government focuses on several incidents of violence, an asserted change in inmate demographics, and other security factors that it claims lead to an increased risk of violence,” Schroeder wrote. “Yet the government has not pointed to the causes or magnitude of the asserted increased risk. Nor did the government try to demonstrate to the district judges, or now on appeal, that other less restrictive measures, such as increased staffing, would not suffice.”
     Ellis Johnston, an attorney for the defendants, said the Federal Defenders of San Diego appreciates the court’s demand for a high burden to be met before such measures are taken.
     “The court’s decision acknowledges how the routine use of shackles in almost every pretrial proceeding can humiliate and distract a defendant in a constitutionally significant way and that across-the-board shackling of people who have not even been convicted of a crime can undercut the need for a dignified and decorous judicial process,” Johnston said.
     Schroeder noted that while the Roybal is an old building that was never designed to be used solely as a courthouse, the courthouses of the Southern District do not share the same security issues.
     “Protecting defendants’ rights and promoting courtroom security are both high priorities,” said United States Attorney Laura Duffy. “We are reviewing today’s decision with both priorities in mind.”

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