September 01, 2016

Maryland Extends Presumption against Shackling Juveniles

Emily Peeler

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

In re D.M., 2016 WL 3557219 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.). 

A juvenile defendant appealed his adjudication for theft after the juvenile court denied his attorney’s request to remove his shackles during a hearing where witnesses testified. The appeals court agreed the presumption against shackling recognized in adult criminal courts should also be applied in juvenile proceedings because it hinders the treatment and rehabilitation goals of the juvenile justice system. 

The juvenile court found the defendant, D.M., was involved in the delinquent act of theft of property valued at less than $1,000 when he stole a cell phone while on a bicycle. The victim called police with a description and was asked to make a ride-by identification two and a half hours later while in a police cruiser. She recognized D.M. and his bicycle. 

After his arrest, D.M. appeared at several hearings with his attorney at which he was shackled. At each of these hearings the attorney asked for the shackles to be removed and the judge denied the request without stating the reason. He appealed the use of shackles at an adjudicatory hearing where witnesses testified. D.M. was transported in leg and wrist restraints and then remained shackled during the hearing. Before witnesses arrived, the attorney asked the judge to remove the shackles. The judge allowed the attorney to raise the issue, offered to let him move his hands in front, discussed the possibility with the security officer, and offered the juvenile a coat to cover his hands or for him to put his hands in his lap. The security officer told the judge that D.M. was known to make obscene gestures with his hands and that he would not be comfortable releasing him completely from his shackles. Ultimately, D.M. was allowed to have his hands placed in front of him in his lap. 

D.M. argued, and the appeals court agreed, that the presumption against shackling applied in adult criminal courts should be applied in juvenile proceedings. The appeals court relied on several U.S. Supreme Court cases. Deck v. Missouri prohibited the use of “physical restraints visible to the jury” without a justification of state interest based on three fundamental legal principles: the presumption of innocence, the right to consult counsel, and the courtroom’s dignity including the respectful treatment of defendants. Holbrook v. Flynn limited the Deck decision to the right to appear without overtly suggestive security measures. The appeals court in D.M.’s case added that there are practical limits to that right, including the defendant’s behavior and the court’s discretion to remove a defendant. 

Courts do not automatically apply the constitutional rights of adult defendants to juveniles because the juvenile system is intended to be less criminal and punitive with a focus on treatment and rehabilitation. The appeals court focused on whether granting the right to appear without overtly suggestive security measures would help achieve or serve the goals of the juvenile justice system. The use of shackles would impede system goals by impacting the perceptions of witnesses, the ability to assist counsel, and impair the juvenile’s psychological state. Rather, the court found that appearing free of shackles would promote system goals.

The court then addressed whether denial of the request to remove D.M.’s shackles was prejudicial. The use of shackles neither impeded D.M.’s ability to communicate with his lawyer nor unduly prejudiced a witness against him by seeing him in shackles. 

The appeals court also ruled on the victim’s out-of-court identification of D.M. The reliability of the out-of-court identification was supported by the opportunity of the witness to view D.M. at the time of the crime, her degree of attention, the accuracy of her prior description of D.M., the level of certainty when identifying the witness, and the length of time between the crime and identification. After examining these factors, a court can find an identification unreliable only if there is a “very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.” There was no such showing in this case.