High Court bans shackling murder defendants - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

High Court bans shackling murder defendants

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May 24, 2005

Albany- Murder defendants may no longer have to wear visible shackles during court.

"This is somebody who has nothing left to lose, and we saw with the Nichols case what an unarmed person can do given an opportunity," says Darton Political Science Professor Roger Marietta.

Marietta says the supreme court is over thinking whether leg irons and handcuffs will influence a jury's decision and jeopardizing courtroom safety.

"At some point I think we need to be prejudice in favor of the victims," Marietta says.

The U. S. Supreme Court banned shackling after a Missouri man was visibly restrained during his sentencing. In a seven to two vote justices said the presiding judge did not determine whether he was an escape or security risk.

"They had his restraints hidden to the jury in the same case that during the penalty phase they had them visible," says defense attorney Howard Stiller.

Howard Stiller says he understands why the high court made their ruling, but says there are other ways to maintain safety without violating a defendant's rights.

"I think you can have your cake and eat it too. There's such great high-tech equipment now-a-days hat most police departments generally have anyway that you could make sure the defendant stays in place if there is some kind of security concern," says Stiller.

"There's lots of alternatives to that sort of thing. They have what they call a stun belt. It fits under the clothing, it has a remote control, and someone such as a deputy in the courtroom can exercise control over a defendant that way very easily," says Superior Court Judge Loring Gray.

Gray says he believes restraints are necessary in some situations, but prefers using invisible ones if they must be used. He says Missouri judges made the mistake not making it clear as to why they allowed the defendant to be shackled.

"They just said well we felt it was appropriate so that the jurors would feel safer. Here you know the guy is going away to the penitentiary for life at least. That's the other alternative. I don't see how that would make the jury feel any safer," says Gray.

Judge Gray says the ruling is very case-specific and he doesn't think it will have a large impact on the nation's court system. However, he does believe it will open the doors for more defendants to bring up similar complaints.

The ruling will not effect the conviction in the Missouri case. The defendant will have to go through another sentencing proceeding.

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