On Shackling

People charged with a crime are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the law does allow restraining accused people under certain circumstances. For example, the court may require a defendant to post bail (or a bail bond) before the defendant is released, to insure his or her appearance at trial. Whether and how much bail is required depends on the severity of the crime and the potential punishment, the defendant's ties to the community, the defendant's past efforts to flee, and the likelihood that the defendant will commit more crimes while awaiting trial, among other factors. As another example, when the government has a compelling reason, such as the the defendant has a very violent history or has previously attempted an escape, the defendant can be shackled, even in view of the jury. A compelling reason is required because a jury is more likely to convict a shackled person than an unshackled person--the shackling creates a visual cue to the jury that is hard to ignore. Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the fact that no jury is watching does not justify routine shackling. The U.S. Marshals Service had asked the judges of the U.S. District Courts in the Southern District of California to agree to routine shacking for the convenience of the Service, and almost all of the judges agreed, including the shackling of wheelchair-bound, visually-impaired, or otherwise disabled defendants. The Ninth Circuit rejected that approach, ruling that routine shackling is unconstitutional, and holding that the same standard for shackling in the presence of a jury applies outside the presence of a jury. This is because defendants are presumed innocent and should be treated accordingly, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. In a concurring opinion, a judge pointed out that the degradation of individuals being forced to stand before the court in chains without ever having been convicted does not comport with the dignity with which court proceedings should be conducted. The case is United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, et al, http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202787966125