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Shackling Prejudice: Expanding the Deck v. Missouri Rule to Nonjury Proceedings

Posted by on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 in Notes, Volume 73, Number 2.

Sadie Shourd | 73 Vand. L. Rev. 535 (2020) |

Courts in the United States have traditionally held that criminal defendants have the right to be free from unwarranted restraints visible to the jury during the guilt phase of a trial. The term “unwarranted restraints” refers to the use of restraints on a defendant absent a court’s individualized determination that such restraints are justified by an essential state interest. In Deck v. Missouri, the Supreme Court expanded the prohibition against unwarranted restraints to the sentencing phase of a trial. The law regarding the unwarranted shackling of defendants in nonjury proceedings, however, remains unsettled. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Eleventh Circuits have held that courts may validly use restraints on defendants in nonjury proceedings absent a showing of individualized need. Conversely, the Ninth Circuit has determined that the holding in Deck extends to nonjury proceedings, and therefore defendants have a right to be free from unwarranted shackles in jury and nonjury proceedings. This Note advocates for the Ninth Circuit’s approach and argues that the Supreme Court should expand the rule established in Deck to nonjury proceedings. Unwarranted restraints violate criminal defendants’ due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments regardless of the presence of a jury. This Note then proposes factors for courts to use in conducting individualized shackling determinations and offers further recommendations for implementation of the Deck rule to all court proceedings—jury and nonjury.

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Sadie Shourd