State v. Allah Jamaal W., No. 27770.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtDAVIS, Justice
Citation209 W.Va. 1,543 S.E.2d 282
Docket NumberNo. 27770.
Decision Date01 December 2000
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Appellee, v. ALLAH JAMAAL W., Defendant Below, Appellant.

543 S.E.2d 282
209 W.Va.
1

STATE of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Appellee,
v.
ALLAH JAMAAL W., Defendant Below, Appellant

No. 27770.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted November 1, 2000.

Decided December 1, 2000.


543 S.E.2d 283
George V. Sitler, Public Defender's Office, Princeton, for the Appellant

Darrell V. McGraw, Jr., Attorney General, Leah Perry Macia, Assistant Attorney General, Charleston, for the Appellee.

DAVIS, Justice:

Allah Jamaal W.,1 appellant/respondent below (hereinafter referred to as "Allah"), filed this appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Mercer County adjudicating him delinquent and committing him to the Industrial Home for Youth for a period of one year. In this appeal, Allah contends that the trial court committed error by requiring his incarcerated witnesses to wear shackles and prison clothing while testifying at his trial.

543 S.E.2d 284
The State has confessed error. However, the State urges this Court to find the error harmless. After reviewing the briefs, appellate record and listening to the oral arguments of the parties, we find the error complained of was not harmless. The conviction and sentence are reversed. The case is remanded for a new trial

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the evening of November 15, 1998, Bluefield police Officer Robert Mason was talking with two people near a bar called Bo's Nightclub.2 Allah walked past Officer Mason and the two exchanged hostile words.3 The testimony was conflicting as to what happened after the initial exchange of words between Allah and Officer Mason.4 It is clear that a struggle ensued which resulted in Allah being taken into custody and a juvenile petition being filed charging Allah with striking Officer Mason in the throat and forehead.5

Allah demanded a trial by jury. Prior to trial, Allah filed a motion asking the court to permit three of his witnesses, who were incarcerated, to testify without shackles and wearing nonprison clothing. The trial court summarily denied the motion, and Allah's three witnesses testified while shackled and wearing prison clothes. The jury returned a verdict finding Allah guilty of making unlawful contact with Officer Mason. The court subsequently committed Allah to the Industrial Home for Youth for a period of one year. It is from this conviction that Allah now appeals.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"A delinquent juvenile is `a juvenile who has been adjudicated as one who commits an act which would be a crime under state law or a municipal ordinance if committed by an adult.'" West Virginia Dept. of Military Affairs and Pub. Safety, Div. of Juvenile Servs. v. Berger, 203 W.Va. 468, 470 n. 1, 508 S.E.2d 628, 630 n. 1 (1998) (quoting W. Va.Code § 49-1-4(8) (1997) (Supp.1997)). Accord W. Va.Code § 49-1-4(8) (1998) (Repl. Vol.1999). Rules of evidence and procedural rights applicable in adult criminal proceedings are applicable with equal force in juvenile adjudicatory proceedings. W. Va.Code § 49-5-2(j) and (k) (1998) (Repl.Vol.1999). Accord W. Va.Code § 49-5-2(j) and (k) (2000) (Supp.2000). Therefore, an adjudication of delinquency is subject to the same standards of review on appeal as is an adult criminal conviction. In the instant proceeding, the issue confronting this Court is whether it was error for the trial court to require Allah's witnesses to appear before the jury shackled and wearing prison garb.

Heretofore, this Court has not established a specific standard for our review of whether the trial court has committed such an error. Because our discussion of the appropriate standard involves a review of the same cases we rely on in deciding the specific issues raised in this case, we set forth the appropriate standard in the body of our discussion, rather than at this point, to avoid repetition. Nevertheless, we note that we have previously held that "[a] criminal defendant has no constitutional right to have his witnesses appear at trial without physical restraints or in civilian attire." Syl. pt. 3, State ex rel. McMannis v. Mohn, 163 W.Va. 129, 254 S.E.2d 805 (1979). Consequently, "where a nonconstitutional error has been asserted, we have adopted the rather general rule that the case will not be reversed unless the error is prejudicial to the defendant."

543 S.E.2d 285
State v. Atkins, 163 W.Va. 502, 510, 261 S.E.2d 55, 60 (1979) (citations omitted). See also State v. Potter, 197 W.Va. 734, 748, 478 S.E.2d 742, 756 (1996) ("Our cases consistently have held that nonconstitutional errors are harmless unless the reviewing court has grave doubt as to whether the [error] substantially swayed the verdict."). Accord State v. Salmons, 203 W.Va. 561, 509 S.E.2d 842 (1998); State v. Rahman, 199 W.Va. 144, 483 S.E.2d 273 (1996); State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995); State v. Young, 185 W.Va. 327, 406 S.E.2d 758 (1991); State v. Ferrell, 184 W.Va. 123, 399 S.E.2d 834 (1990)

III.

DISCUSSION

In the case sub judice Allah filed a motion with the trial court seeking to have his three incarcerated witnesses testify at trial without shackles and wearing civilian clothing. The trial court summarily denied the motion. The State has confessed error in the trial court's decision to deny the motion.6 However, the State contends that this Court should conclude that the lower court's decision was harmless.7

We begin our analysis by reviewing the seminal case of State ex rel. McMannis v. Mohn, 163 W.Va. 129, 254 S.E.2d 805 (1979). McMannis was presented to the Court as an original habeas corpus proceeding. The defendant in McMannis was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and sentenced to life imprisonment under the recidivist statute. One of the issues presented in the McMannis case concerned the defendant's argument that he had a constitutional right to have his witnesses appear at trial without physical restraints and in civilian attire.8 This Court rejected the defendant's argument insofar as it was presented as a constitutional right. We held that "[a] criminal defendant has no constitutional right to have his witnesses appear at trial without physical restraints or in civilian attire." McMannis, 163 W.Va. at 139-140, 254 S.E.2d at 811.

Although McMannis declined to extend constitutional protection to the physical appearance of a defendant's witness, we did acknowledge that "there may be occasions when forcing the defendant's witnesses to testify in physical restraints [or prison attire] may create sufficient prejudice that reversible error will occur." McMannis, 163 W.Va. at 140, 254 S.E.2d at 811. We further suggested, in dicta, procedures that should be

543 S.E.2d 286
followed when the issue of an incarcerated witness' attire or the use of physical restraints became an issue.9 Id. at 139 n. 7, 254 S.E.2d at 810 n. 7.

With respect to an incarcerated witness' attire, we indicated in McMannis "that it is incumbent upon defense counsel, if he wishes to obtain prison witnesses, to make voluntary arrangements with the custodial authorities for them to appear in civilian attire. If a voluntary arrangement cannot be made, he should move the court for an order in advance of trial." 163 W.Va. at 137, 254 S.E.2d at 809. With respect to shackles, we indicated if a voluntary arrangement could not be made regarding the use of shackles, defense counsel should move the trial court for a hearing on the matter.10 Id. at 139 n. 7, 254 S.E.2d at 810 n. 7.

In the instant proceeding Allah has asked that this Court elevate McMannis' dicta into law. We are inclined to do so. For reasons similar to those recognized in McMannis, courts in other jurisdictions have held that an incarcerated witness for the defendant should not be forced to testify in prison attire. See Johnson v. Spalding, 510 F.Supp. 164 (E.D.Wash.1981); State v. Torres, 57 Conn.App. 614, 749 A.2d 1210 (2000); Mullins v. State, 766 So.2d 1136 (Fla.Ct.App. 2000); Thompson v. State, 514 S.W.2d 275 (Tex.Crim.App.1974). Regardless of this general prohibition, courts have not overturned convictions on the sole basis that a witness for the defendant was forced to wear prison attire while testifying. See United States v. Adams, 1 F.3d 1566 (11th Cir.1993); Johnson v. Spalding, 510 F.Supp. 164 (E.D.Wash.1981); State v. Yates, 174 Conn. 16, 381 A.2d 536 (1977); Tompkins v. State, 386 So.2d 597 (Fla.App.1980); State v. Marcelin, 669 So.2d 497 (La.Ct.App. 4th Cir. 1996); White v. State, 105 Nev. 121, 771 P.2d 152 (1989).

Additionally, courts in other jurisdictions have also prohibited the arbitrary use of shackles on an incarcerated witness for the defendant during the witness' trial testimony. See Harrell v. Israel, 672 F.2d 632 (7th Cir. 1982); Kennedy v. Cardwell, 487 F.2d 101 (6th Cir.1973); Williams v. State, 629 P.2d 54 (Alaska 1981); People v. Valenzuela, 151 Cal.App.3d 180, 198 Cal.Rptr. 469 (1984); Robbins v. State, 177 Ga.App. 547, 340 S.E.2d 206 (1986); People v. Myers, 185 Ill.App.3d 118, 133 Ill.Dec. 184, 540 N.E.2d 1050 (1989); State v. Bradford, 254 Kan. 133, 864 P.2d 680 (1993); State v. Coursolle, 255 Minn. 384, 97 N.W.2d 472 (1959); State v. Jones, 556 S.W.2d 736 (Mo.Ct.App.1977). The rule against arbitrarily shackling a defendant's witness was explained by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals as follows:

The general rule for shackling witnesses is that a defendant has a right to have his witnesses appear free of shackles, except in special circumstances where there is evident danger of escape or harm to individuals in the courtroom.... The reason underlying the rule is the inherent prejudice to the defendant since it is likely the jury will suspect the witness's credibility. The prejudice factor toward the defendant, although much less than the situation where the defendant is shackled, provides a valid point of comparison even though the shackled witness cases do not directly affect the presumption of innocence.

Kennedy v. Cardwell, 487 F.2d 101, 105 n. 5 (6th Cir.1973).

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20 practice notes
  • State v. Rodriguez, No. 70666-2.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 2, 2002
    ...restraints on a witness in the courtroom, in full view of the jury, the proper remedy is also a new trial. See State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 6-8, 543 S.E.2d 282 (2000); Jackson v. State, 698 So.2d 1299, 1303-04 (Fla.Ct.App.1997); People v. Mixon, 120 A.D.2d 861, 862, 502 N.Y.S.2d 2......
  • People v. Bowman, No. 1–10–2010.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 15, 2012
    ...Artwell, 177 N.J. 526, 832 A.2d 295, 303 (2003); State v. Rodriguez, 146 Wash.2d 260, 45 P.3d 541, 545 (2002); State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 543 S.E.2d 282, 288 (2000); State v. Yates, 174 Conn. 16, 381 A.2d 536, 537 (1977); Mullins v. State, 766 So.2d 1136, 1136–37 (Fla.Dist.Ct.Ap......
  • State v. Tommy Y., Jr., No. 33055.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 27, 2006
    ...is subject to the same standards of review on appeal as is an adult criminal conviction." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 543 S.E.2d 282 (2000). See State v. William T., 175 W.Va. 736, 738, 338 S.E.2d 215, 218 (1985). The issues presented in this appeal involve the suffic......
  • State ex rel. Richey v. Hill, No. 31676.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 27, 2004
    ...is an issue of great public concern and the bench, bar, and public would greatly benefit from our guidance. See State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 4 n. 7, 543 S.E.2d 282, 285 n. 7 (2000) (addressing otherwise moot claims made by one who had been released from prison because the "issue [......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • State v. Rodriguez, No. 70666-2.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 2, 2002
    ...restraints on a witness in the courtroom, in full view of the jury, the proper remedy is also a new trial. See State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 6-8, 543 S.E.2d 282 (2000); Jackson v. State, 698 So.2d 1299, 1303-04 (Fla.Ct.App.1997); People v. Mixon, 120 A.D.2d 861, 862, 502 N.Y.S.2d 2......
  • People v. Bowman, No. 1–10–2010.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 15, 2012
    ...Artwell, 177 N.J. 526, 832 A.2d 295, 303 (2003); State v. Rodriguez, 146 Wash.2d 260, 45 P.3d 541, 545 (2002); State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 543 S.E.2d 282, 288 (2000); State v. Yates, 174 Conn. 16, 381 A.2d 536, 537 (1977); Mullins v. State, 766 So.2d 1136, 1136–37 (Fla.Dist.Ct.Ap......
  • State v. Tommy Y., Jr., No. 33055.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 27, 2006
    ...is subject to the same standards of review on appeal as is an adult criminal conviction." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 543 S.E.2d 282 (2000). See State v. William T., 175 W.Va. 736, 738, 338 S.E.2d 215, 218 (1985). The issues presented in this appeal involve the suffic......
  • State ex rel. Richey v. Hill, No. 31676.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 27, 2004
    ...is an issue of great public concern and the bench, bar, and public would greatly benefit from our guidance. See State v. Allah Jamaal W., 209 W.Va. 1, 4 n. 7, 543 S.E.2d 282, 285 n. 7 (2000) (addressing otherwise moot claims made by one who had been released from prison because the "issue [......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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