United States v. Sanchez-Gomez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-25-2015
  • Case #: 13-50561
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court; Circuit Judge Nguyen and District Judge Zouhary
  • Full Text Opinion

The adoption of a generalized policy of shackling defendants during pretrial appearances before judges must have adequate justification.

Four defendants challenged a policy in the Southern District of California where United States Marshals placed pretrial detainees in full shackle restraints in most appearances before judges, unless a judge specifically requested the restraints be removed. Full restraints include leg shackles and handcuffs connected to a belly band by a 15-inch long chain. The restraint policy was adopted after staffing cutbacks, some security incidents, and the opening of a new court house. The Marshal Service requested the policy and the Chief Judge approved. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the restraint policy must have adequate justification for the restraints, and “cannot rest primarily on the economic strain of the jailer.” The panel explained that the Supreme Court has distinguished three fundamental legal principles that are adversely affected by the use of shackling in front of a jury: (1) the presumption of innocence (which is undermined when shackled before a jury); (2) the right to counsel (shackles make it harder to communicate with an attorney, humiliate the defendant, and detract from the defense); and, (3) the need for a dignified judicial process. The panel held that allowing the routine use of shackles in non-jury proceedings does not violate the Due Process Clause. However, shackles may not be used routinely, even if before only a judge, without any justification showing the necessity. The panel held that the Southern District must demonstrate a stronger justification, more than just an economic need, for the shackling policy’s necessity. VACATED and REMANDED.

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