Deck v. Missouri

Decision Date23 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-5293.,04-5293.
PartiesDECK v. MISSOURI
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Petitioner Deck was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, but the Missouri Supreme Court set aside the sentence. At his new sentencing proceeding, he was shackled with leg irons, handcuffs, and a belly chain. The trial court overruled counsel's objections to the shackles, and Deck was again sentenced to death. Affirming, the State Supreme Court rejected Deck's claim that his shackling violated, inter alia, the Federal Constitution.

Held: The Constitution forbids the use of visible shackles during a capital trial's penalty phase, as it does during the guilt phase, unless that use is "justified by an essential state interest"—such as courtroom security—specific to the defendant on trial. Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U. S. 560, 568-569. Pp. 626-633.

(a) The law has long forbidden routine use of visible shackles during a capital trial's guilt phase, permitting shackling only in the presence of a special need. In light of Holbrook, Illinois v. Allen, 397 U. S. 337, early English cases, and lower court shackling doctrine dating back to the 19th century, it is now clear that this is a basic element of due process protected by the Federal Constitution. Thus, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit using physical restraints visible to the jury absent a trial court determination, in the exercise of its discretion, that restraints are justified by a state interest specific to the particular defendant on trial. Pp. 626-629.

(b) If the reasons motivating the guilt phase constitutional rule—the presumption of innocence, securing a meaningful defense, and maintaining dignified proceedings—apply with like force at the penalty phase, the same rule will apply there. The latter two considerations obviously apply. As for the first, while the defendant's conviction means that the presumption of innocence no longer applies, shackles at the penalty phase threaten related concerns. The jury, though no longer deciding between guilt and innocence, is deciding between life and death, which, given the sanction's severity and finality, is no less important, Monge v. California, 524 U. S. 721, 732. Nor is accuracy in making that decision any less critical. Yet, the offender's appearance in shackles almost inevitably implies to a jury that court authorities consider him a danger to the community (which is often a statutory aggravator and always a relevant factor); almost inevitably affects adversely the jury's perception of the defendant's character; and thereby inevitably undermines the jury's ability to weigh accurately all relevant considerations when determining whether the defendant deserves death. The constitutional rule that courts cannot routinely place defendants in shackles or other restraints visible to the jury during the penalty phase is not absolute. In the judge's discretion, account may be taken of special circumstances in the case at hand, including security concerns, that may call for shackling in order to accommodate the important need to protect the courtroom and its occupants. Pp. 630-633.

(c) Missouri's arguments that its high court's decision in this case meets the Constitution's requirements are unconvincing. The first—that that court properly concluded that there was no evidence that the jury saw the restraints—is inconsistent with the record, which shows that the jury was aware of them, and overstates what the court actually said, which was that trial counsel made no record of the extent of the jury's awareness of the shackles. The second—that the trial court acted within its discretion—founders on the record, which does not clearly indicate that the judge weighted the particular circumstances of the case. The judge did not refer to an escape risk or threat to courtroom security or explain why, if shackles were necessary, he did not provide nonvisible ones as was apparently done during the guilt phase of this case. The third—that Deck suffered no prejudice—fails to take account of Holbrook's statement that shackling is "inherently prejudicial," 475 U. S., at 568, a view rooted in this Court's belief that the practice will often have negative effects that "cannot be shown from a trial transcript," Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127, 137. Thus, where a court, without adequate justification, orders the defendant to wear shackles visible to the jury, the defendant need not demonstrate actual prejudice to make out a due process violation. The State must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt that the [shackling] did not contribute to the verdict obtained." Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18, 24. Pp. 634-635.

136 S. W. 3d 481, reversed and remanded.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 635.

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI.

Rosemary E. Percival argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Cheryl Caponegro Nield, Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the briefs were Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Attorney General, James R. Layton, State Solicitor, and Evan J. Buchheim, Assistant Attorney General.*

JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We here consider whether shackling a convicted offender during the penalty phase of a capital case violates the Federal Constitution. We hold that the Constitution forbids the use of visible shackles during the penalty phase, as it forbids their use during the guilt phase, unless that use is "justified by an essential state interest" — such as the interest in courtroom security — specific to the defendant on trial. Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U. S. 560, 568-569 (1986); see also Illinois v. Allen, 397 U. S. 337, 343-344 (1970).

I

In July 1996, petitioner Carman Deck robbed, shot, and killed an elderly couple. In 1998, the State of Missouri tried Deck for the murders and the robbery. At trial, state authorities required Deck to wear leg braces that apparently were not visible to the jury. App. 5; Tr. of Oral Arg. 21, 25 29. Deck was convicted and sentenced to death. The State Supreme Court upheld Deck's conviction but set aside the sentence. 68 S. W. 3d 418, 432 (2002) (en banc). The State then held a new sentencing proceeding.

From the first day of the new proceeding, Deck was shackled with leg irons, handcuffs, and a belly chain. App. 58. Before the jury voir dire began, Deck's counsel objected to the shackles. The objection was overruled. Ibid.; see also id., at 41-55. During the voir dire, Deck's counsel renewed the objection. The objection was again overruled, the court stating that Deck "has been convicted and will remain in legirons and a belly chain." Id., at 58. After the voir dire, Deck's counsel once again objected, moving to strike the jury panel "because of the fact that Mr. Deck is shackled in front of the jury and makes them think that he is . . . violent today." Id., at 58-59. The objection was again overruled, the court stating that his "being shackled takes any fear out of their minds." Id., at 59. The penalty phase then proceeded with Deck in shackles. Deck was again sentenced to death. 136 S. W. 3d 481, 485 (Mo. 2004) (en banc).

On appeal, Deck claimed that his shackling violated both Missouri law and the Federal Constitution. The Missouri Supreme Court rejected these claims, writing that there was "no record of the extent of the jury's awareness of the restraints"; there was no "claim that the restraints impeded" Deck "from participating in the proceedings"; and there was "evidence" of "a risk" that Deck "might flee in that he was a repeat offender" who may have "killed his two victims to avoid being returned to custody." Ibid. Thus, there was "sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court's exercise of its discretion" to require shackles, and in any event Deck "has not demonstrated that the outcome of his trial was prejudiced. . . . Neither being viewed in shackles by the venire panel prior to trial, nor being viewed while restrained throughout the entire trial, alone, is proof of prejudice." Ibid. The court rejected Deck's other claims of error and affirmed the sentence.

We granted certiorari to review Deck's claim that his shackling violated the Federal Constitution.

II

We first consider whether, as a general matter, the Constitution permits a State to use visible shackles routinely in the guilt phase of a criminal trial. The answer is clear: The law has long forbidden routine use of visible shackles during the guilt phase; it permits a State to shackle a criminal defendant only in the presence of a special need.

This rule has deep roots in the common law. In the 18th century, Blackstone wrote that "it is laid down in our antient books, that, though under an indictment of the highest nature," a defendant "must be brought to the bar without irons, or any manner of shackles or bonds; unless there be evident danger of an escape." 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 317 (1769) (footnote omitted); see also 3 E. Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England *34 ("If felons come in judgement to answer, . . . they shall be out of irons, and all manner of bonds, so that their pain shall not take away any manner of reason, nor them constrain to answer, but at their free will"). Blackstone and other English authorities recognized that the rule did not apply at "the time of arraignment," or like proceedings before the judge. Blackstone, supra, at 317; see also Trial of Christopher Layer, 16 How. St. Tr. 94, 99 (K. B. 1722). It was meant to protect defendants appearing at trial before a jury. See King v. Waite, 1 Leach 28, 36, 168 Eng. Rep. 117, 120 (K. B. 1743) ("[B]eing put upon his trial, the Court immediately ordered [the defendant's] fetters to be knocked off")...

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