Shackled Detainee Case Faces High Court Review

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed late Friday to take up a case challenging the policy of shackling pretrial detainees in the Southern District of California.

Federal defendants have been attending court appearances at the Southern District in handcuffs and leg shackles, connected by a belly chain, since 2013.

Though U.S. marshals have pointed to improved security and lower costs, a challenge by lead plaintiff Rene Sanchez-Gomez led the Ninth Circuit to strike the policy down as unconstitutional in 2015.

After the en banc court echoed that ruling this spring, the United States petitioned in Washington for a writ of certiorari.

The high court took up the case Friday with no comment on the merits of the case, as is its custom.

While the government had put several issues to the court, the justices agreed to answer just one question: “Whether the court of appeals erred in asserting authority to review respondents’ interlocutory challenge to pretrial physical restraints and in ruling on that challenge notwithstanding its recognition that respondents’ individual claims were moot.”

U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco will defend the policy for the government. Reuben Camper Cahn with the Federal Defenders of San Diego represents Sanchez-Gomez and the other detainee challengers.

The case has also caught the attention of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who submitted an amicus brief with help from attorney Michael Fragoso.

James Touchstone with the Fullerton, Calif., firm Jones & Mayer submitted an amicus brief as well on behalf of the California State Sheriffs’ Association and others.

U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski signed the Ninth Circuit’s last ruling on the case.

“A presumptively innocent defendant has the right to be treated with respect and dignity in a public courtroom, not like a bear on a chain,” he wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta blasted the majority meanwhile in a lengthy dissent, saying it advocated a “one-size-fits-all” security policy.

“We should not be hearing this case at all, much less using it to announce a sweeping and unfounded new constitutional rule with potentially grave consequences for state and federal courthouses throughout this circuit,” Ikuta wrote.

Kozinski’s ruling requires the court to make an individual determination before any defendant is shackled, focusing on whether restraint of the defendant would serve a compelling purpose and is required to maintain order in the courtroom.

“This right to be free from unwarranted shackles no matter the proceeding respects our foundational principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty,” Kozinski wrote.

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