Handcuffs and Physical Restraints of a Person on Trial in a Criminal Case


May a trial judge order that a defendant in a criminal trial be shackled, wear handcuffs, or some other physical restraint?

Yes. But there must be a reason why the trial judge orders that the defendant wear handcuffs.

Why can’t a court order that a criminal defendant be handcuffed during trial?

Shackling a criminal defendant during trial proceedings inheres three concerns (Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 630, 125 S.Ct. 2007, 2013, 161 L.Ed.2d 953 (2005)) (Oyez):

  • Presumption of Innocence: The criminal process presumes that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. A defendant who is visibly shackled does not have the benefit of this bedrock presumption and thus his right to a fair trial is fundamentally compromised.
  • Right to Counsel: The Constitution, in order to help the accused secure a meaningful defense, provides him with a right to counsel. The use of shackles may undermine this right by impeding a defendant’s ability to effectively communicate with his attorney.
  • Due Process: The routine use of shackles in the presence of juries compromises the courtroom’s formal dignity, which includes the respectful treatment of defendants, reflects the importance of the matter at issue, guilt or innocence, and the gravity with which Americans consider any deprivation of an individual’s liberty through criminal punishment.

When may a defendant be handcuffed during trial?

Courts have recognized that it may be necessary to restrain a criminal defendant, but this should only be done in exceptional circumstances. Deck, 544 U.S. at 629. For instance,  when a defendant has demonstrated a propensity to escape or has threatened or assaulted courtroom personnel, thereby implicating an essential state interest, namely, courtroom security. Prior to the use of shackles, however, a trial court must make a specific finding that they are necessary for reasons particular to a given case.

Courtroom security is not a sufficient reason for the implementation of handcuffs or other physical restraints. The trial court must find that there is a manifest need or exceptional circumstance, such as when a defendant poses a threat to himself or others.

The trial court does, however, have discretion to order restraints when there is a showing of a manifest need or exceptional circumstances, such as when a defendant poses a threat to himself or others. Davis v. State, 195 S.W.3d 311, 315 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, no pet.).

Cases

Mere speculation that a defendant could use his cane as a deadly weapon was not sufficient justification. Boone v. State, 230 S.W.3d 907, 911 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th] 2007).