Fla. Supreme Court Bans Shackles for Juveniles in Courtroom

Jordana Mishory

Daily Business Review

December 21, 2009

The Florida Supreme Court has banned the widespread practice of shackling juvenile defendants in courtrooms, calling it “repugnant, degrading, humiliating and contrary to the state’s primary purposes of the juvenile justice system.”

In an unsigned 6-1 opinion, the court amended the rules of judicial procedure to state a juvenile defendant cannot be placed in handcuffs, chains, irons or straitjackets unless the court finds it necessary in specific instances.

In courtrooms around the state, children were being shackled by the wrists and ankles with belly chains, chained to furniture or chained to each other, the justices noted. The court suggested shackling may violate the children’s due process rights.

New rules state restraints are allowed only to prevent physical harm against the child or others, if they pose a substantial flight risk, they have a history of disruptive behavior in court and there are no alternatives.

Justice Charles T. Canady disagreed in a partial dissent, saying due process concerns come into play only when the defendant is before a jury, Canady said.

“The rule unduly restricts the ability of juvenile court judges to ensure that security is maintained in the courtroom,” he wrote. “The reality is that being subjected to physical restraints is an inherent part of being in custody.”

The Florida Bar’s Juvenile Court Rules Committee proposed the amendments based on recommendations in a 2006 report by the National Juvenile Defender Center.

The court notes the amendment drew a heavy response, with the University of Miami School of Law Center for the Study of Human Rights, the Florida Public Defender Association and Florida Children’s First, among others, pressing for a change. Opposition came from the 2nd Circuit’s state attorney’s office based in Tallahassee and former 6th Circuit Chief Judge Robert Morris Jr., who now serves on the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

In interviews, two South Florida public defenders praised the high court’s ruling.

Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez, former vice chairman of The Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee, said he has seen shackled children facing misdemeanors, petty theft charges and first offenses.

“Juvenile courts are supposed to be for rehabilitation and therapeutic purposes to make sure the children grow up to be law-abiding and successful adults,” he said, adding shackling youths goes against those principles.

Martinez campaigned against the state Department of Juvenile Justice’s policy of shackling juvenile defendants and prompted some judges to reconsider the practice. He said children rarely are in shackles now in Miami-Dade courts.

Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said the ruling indicates there is intelligence in the judiciary.

“It’s a shame it took so long and so many kids had to be shackled and tied up and paraded through public corridors and courthouses around this state like they’re animals,” he said.

..Source.. Jordana Mishory, Daily Business Review


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