“Shackling undermines the presumption of innocence and denigrates the fact-finding process.”
— American Bar Association
“Shackling is contrary to the goals of juvenile justice.”
— National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
It’s not an uncommon sight to see an adult criminal defendant, perhaps one charged with rape or murder, sitting in a courtroom wearing a suit and tie. In the early stages of the case, that same defendant was likely in court in an orange jump suit, handcuffed, shackled and chained, while awaiting decisions on bail and the setting of a trial date. But because the appearance of those cuffs and shackles can sway jurors to believe a defendant is guilty, regardless of the evidence, they come off and the defendant dons street clothes for trial.
The vast majority of juveniles charged with delinquency offenses, even acts that would be charged as rape or murder if they were adults, do not have a right to a jury trial. The lack of the presence of a jury was one of the controlling factors in why many juvenile courts in Ohio did not hesitate to keep those juveniles in handcuffs when appearing in court.
But the use of handcuffs and shackles in juvenile cases — in Ohio and throughout the country — wasn’t reserved for cases in which juveniles had been charged with rape and murder. In fact, it was not uncommon in some jurisdictions for juveniles charged with just about any level of offense to appear in handcuffs and shackles if they had been arrested by police for anything from a schoolyard fight to shoplifting.
That began to change in the past few years as the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and numerous child advocacy organizations began to look at the data behind the use of shackles in juvenile courts and came to the conclusion that they had to oppose the indiscriminate shackling of juveniles. The studies were clear that in the vast majority of cases shackling was not necessary, interfered with the ability of the juvenile to participate in their defense and was detrimental to their rehabilitation.
Those same studies were presented recently to the seven Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court and on March 8 the court adopted a new rule requiring of the state’s 88 juvenile and family courts to adopt a local policy on the use of shackles with juvenile offenders. The local rules must contain a presumption that shackles will not be used unless certain criteria are met, and they must be in effect by July 1 of this year.
The new statewide rule recognizes that court safety and security are of paramount concern. It permits courts to use cuffs and shackles on a case-by-case basis if the court finds that the juvenile poses a risk to themselves or to others in the courtroom, or if the juvenile is a risk to flee. Further, the rule applies only to times that juveniles are in the courtroom and not to situations where the child is being held in a detention center, transferred from a secure facility to the courthouse or is in the custody of law enforcement.
Here in Delaware County, we prepared a shackling policy in 2015 after consulting with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, which has security jurisdiction over county court facilities. We have now made the slight modifications to that policy that were necessary to meet the Supreme Court guidelines and will submit the rule to the local defense bar and prosecutors for a comment period before adopting it prior to the July 1 deadline.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Common Pleas Court.