8 minutes to read

I wonder if the Sheriff’s Department will ever learn.

By now, it should be well-knownvery well-known — how I feel about shackling children. I personally think it takes a special kind of SICK FUCK to put children in shackles. Especially when there’s no real reason for it.

Not only that, it’s AGAINST THE LAW. But then, we don’t really expect the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department to actually follow the law, do we?

And so, today, another client — you may recall this happened last week, or the week before (I forget exactly) — was brought to juvenile court in shackles.

If you read the articles I linked at the beginning of this one, you know that I have written a few times on this subject. You also know that I despise the shackling of human beings when there is no reason that any rational person can think of which would require it. Thinking “it’s a good idea” is not a “reason that any rational person can think of which would require it.” Human beings accused of — but not yet convicted for — crimes are just as deserving of being treated with dignity and respect. As the California Supreme Court has stated:

The removal of physical restraints is…desirable to assure that ‘every defendant is…brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent man.’ [1]People v. Duran, 16 Cal.3d 282, 290, 545 P.2d 1322 (1976), quoting Eaddy v. People, 115 Colo. 488, 492, 172 P.2d 717 (1946). I don’t know why they used single quotation marks here, but since they did, I left it that way.

In a more recent case, a California Appellate Court stated, while recognizing a potential burden for law enforcement in upholding the requirement that juveniles be brought to court without shackles,

While we are sympathetic to the obligations and responsibility our conclusion may impose upon the juvenile delinquency court, the Sheriff’s Department and the People, those pale in comparison to the values we uphold. [2]Tiffany A. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, 150 Cal.App.4th 1344, 1362, 59 Cal.Rptr.3d 363 (2007) (emphasis added).

In that case, Tiffany A. was a minor who had been shackled for transportation to the courtroom in Los Angeles. In the opinion, the court was told that there were “four exit doors from the courtroom and a number of those doors lead to unsecured exits, public areas and/or to outside the building.” [3]Id. at 1349. Nevertheless, the court said, absent some specific showing that Tiffany herself was an escape risk — that is, that she had tried to escape before, or been unruly and disruptive in court — she could not be shackled.

And that is the law. No other court has questioned that case. (For those who don’t know, when we lawyers do legal research, there are various ways that we can learn if a case is “good law,” or if it has been challenged, or questioned, by other courts, or if it has been overruled. Tiffany A. has not been challenged, or questioned. In fact, an Illinois judge cited it (although I don’t know why, since I don’t have a copy of that case yet). So, again, Tiffany A. is the law. [4]See also, Cal. Pen. Code § 688 (“No person charged with a public offense may be subjected, before conviction, to any more restraint than is necessary for his detention to answer the charge.”)  

There are very good reasons for this law, including that:

[T]he physical restraint policy at issue here is “anti-therapeutic for juveniles…and antithetical to the rehabilitative aims of the juvenile justice system. [5]Tiffany A., supra, at 1354.

Of course, not everyone gives a shit about the juveniles. So consider the words of the United States Supreme Court:

[T]he use of this technique is itself something of an affront to the very dignity and decorum of judicial proceedings that the judge is seeking to uphold. [6]Id. at 1355-1356.

In any event, as I said, the law is that juveniles may not be brought to court in shackles, absent some showing of “manifest need,” and the court’s order of “the physical restraint most suitable for a particular defendant in view of the attendant circumstrances.” [7]Id. at 1355. And “need” is found “only when a defendant demonstrated through his or her conduct unruliness or an intent to escape, or engaged in other ‘non-comforming conduct that would disrupt the judicial process unless restraints were in place.'” [8]Id. at 1356.

However, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department has never let the law get in the way of its deputies doing whatever the hell they want. It does not matter that in Fresno, the juvenile courtrooms are all locked down so that no one can get in unless someone opens the door from the inside, and no one can open the door from the inside without a special badge. (Court employees have them. Probation officers have them. Prosecutors have them. Even Public Defenders/Conflict Counsel have them. Private defense attorneys are not allowed to have them, so I do not have one.) But, as far as the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department is concerned, it does not matter what the law says. It does not matter what the United States Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, or any California Appellate Courts says. Hell, they don’t even listen to the local courts. It does not matter that there is no “unsecured exit” through which minors could escape. It does not matter that the deputy in the courtroom has a loaded gun. As far as the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department is concerned, the law is not going to stop them from using shackles when they decide to do so.

Local judges — although they still will not follow the specific requirements of the law — will, if a defense attorney objects, ask why minors are shackled. This will nearly always result in a petulant response from the Sheriff that they’re going to have to shut that case down for an hour to an hour-and-a-half to see if they can invent find out the reason for the apparently illegal act of bringing the juvenile to court in shackles.

If a defense attorney does not object, the court will leave the decision to security personnel or law enforcement because they are following…oh, wait…

[I]t is the trial court, not law enforcement personnel, that must make the decision an accused b e physically restrained in the courtroom. A trial court abuses its discretion if it abdicates this decisionmaking responsibility to security personnel or law enforcement. [9]Id. at 1357.

As the court noted in Tiffany A., this is inappropriate even in adult cases which take place in an open courtroom. It is all the more so in juvenile cases being held in locked-down courtrooms. [10]See id. at 1358, including 1358, fn. 12. 

[T]he juvenile delinquency court may not, as it did [in Tiffany A.], justify the use of shackles solely on the inadequacy of the courtroom facilities or the lack of available security personnel to monitor them. [11]Id. at 1358.

Now, I said above that the local judges “still will not follow the specific requirements of the law.”

The reason I say that is that Tiffany A. makes it clear that juveniles may not be brought to court in shackles, absent a showing of a particularized need relating to the conduct of the individual juvenile. To their credit, the court has recognized that the law makes this particularized-need requirement, and has eliminated the blanket policy of bringing most juveniles to court in shackles. However, Fresno County Superior Court Juvenile Division judges have abdicated their decisionmaking responsibility to security personnel in that the juveniles who are brought to court in shackles are first brought to court in shackles and — if some defense attorney objects — the juvenile is removed from the courtroom (still in shackles) while the Sheriff’s Department tries to invent see if there exists a justification for keeping them shackled.

Without getting into an exhaustive listing of all the phrases in Tiffany A. that indicate this it not the proper procedure, let me mention just three:

  1. As already noted, it is the court, and not security personnel, who must make the decision to have juveniles shackled in court. If the juvenile is brought to court in shackles without a prior order of the court, then security personnel, or law enforcement, made the decision. 
  2. Tiffany A. says “restraints can only be ordered when there is a need based on the conduct of the accused” indicating that you don’t get restraints until after a court makes its determination.
  3. In the disposition to Tiffany A., the Court orders the lower court “to henceforth consider any request for the use of physical restrains [sic] upon minors in the courtroom during court proceedings on an individual case-by-case basis in accord with the views expressed herein.” [12]Id. at 1362.

Until the local judges teach security personnel and law enforcement that courts lay down the law, while the security personnel, or law enforcement, follow and enforce that law, juveniles will continue to be at risk of being inappropriately — and illegally — shackled.

Or, maybe, now that this is established law, which no reasonable security personnel, or law enforcement officer in the juvenile courts of Fresno County could possibly say they were unaware of, it’s time to start suing the officers in the Federal District Court under 42 USC § 1983.



  1. Shackling a kid because some bailiff thinks it’s a “good idea” is insane. God protect us from the “good ideas” of law enforcement. Law enforcement also thinks it is a “good idea” if we did away with time wasting things such as search warrants. Let the cops on the scene decide whether a house needs to be searched or not, why should these brave men in blue need time wasting warrants? Of course I am being sarcastic. Things like this (search warrants and shackling) should never be left up to cops since they for the most part view the entire public as guilty unless they can be proven innocent.

  2. “no reasonable security personnel, or law enforcement officer in the juvenile courts of Fresno County could possibly say they were unaware of, it’s time to start suing the officers in the Federal District Court under 42 USC § 1983.”

    Does “could possibly say they were unaware of” mean such a suit would have a chance of breaking through qualified immunity?

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