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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Deck: Visible Shackles are Inherently Prejudicial

In Deck v. Missouri, No. 04-5293 (May 23, 2005), the Supreme Court held that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit using physical restraints on a defendant during the sentencing phase of a capital trial, unless that use is justified by an essential state interest, such as courtroom security specific to the defendant. The Court noted that the accuracy of a life or death decision is important to a defendant, and that the view of shackles inevitably undermines the jury’s ability to weigh accurately all relevant considerations. The Court faulted the trial judge for failing to weigh all the circumstances. The shackles are presumptively prejudicial. Thus, where a court without adequate justification orders the defendant to wear shackles, visible to the jury, the defendant need not demonstrate "actual prejudice." Rather, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shackling did not contribute to the verdict.