David R. Wallis


American courts have long held that the practice of placing a criminal defendant in visible shackles during the guilt phase of trial is inherently prejudicial and have required courts to state with particularity the reason for doing so. However, no bright-line rule establishes the proper procedure or the degree of discretion given to the trial courts when making their determination. As a result, disparity has developed among the courts as to when and under what circumstances a criminal defendant may be shackled. Even greater confusion arises when courts consider the issue of shackling a convicted defendant during sentencing. For instance, one line of holdings stated that the past conduct of the defendant was sufficient to establish the need for restraints at sentencing, absent any abuse of discretion by the trial court. Another holding required the trial court to use the same analysis during both the guilt phase and sentencing phase when deciding whether to place a defendant in shackles. Finally, other holdings have required a somewhat lesser showing than that required for shackling a defendant during the guilt phase. In Deck v. Missouri, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of shackling during the sentencing phase of capital cases. The Court held that the United States Constitution forbids visible shackles to be routinely placed on defendants during sentencing for capital crimes. The Court did not, however, hold this prohibition to be absolute. The Court permitted the trial court to place the defendant in shackles provided that the trial court, in its discretion and on the record, considered any special circumstances or essential state interests specific to the particular defendant on trial. This holding presents a problem, not in its application, but in its reasoning. The court based its holding on the defendant's due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. As a means of arriving at its conclusion, however, the court announced three new fundamental rights to which the convicted defendant was entitled.

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