A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, April 18, 2005

Suits and Shackles

During some recent Googling, I came across a criticism of one of my early legal posts. The writer claimed that I was wrong in saying that the Shadow Thief should not be wearing an orange jail jumpsuit at his trial. "For people who are a serious threat to others and society, they may appear in court in prison uniforms (although for these people, they are usually white jumpsuits, not orange). Sometimes, they aren't even allowed to walk, they get rolled into court on what looks like an upside-down bucket with wheels."

This is quite true if the court appearance in question is a preliminary hearing, a bond hearing, an arraignment, or any other type of pretrial procedure. I sat in on a plea calendar recently, and about 75% of the defendants were wearing orange jumpsuits. They were also all cuffed at the hands and ankles, too. If we had been shown Sands' arraignment, then it would have been entirely proper to show him shackled and in an orange jumpsuit (since he wasn't out on bail).

But everything is different at trial, in front of a jury. Pretrial, the defendant is only facing a judge, so prejudice doesn't really matter. Orange jumpsuits and shackles and 'Silence of the Lambs' masks are all fair game. But at trial, the court takes great lengths to avoid unfair prejudice on the part of the jury. Estelle v. Williams had the Supreme Court say that a defendant cannot be required to wear jail clothes if he objects. And the Supreme Court said in Illinois v. Allen that shackles and gags are only to be used on trial defendants as a last resort: "Not only is it possible that the sight of shackles and gags might have a significant effect on the jury's feelings about the defendant, but the 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."

Now a defendant may choose to go to trial in jail clothes, if he so wishes. Some defendants actually choose this, even though the judge may warn them not to. Frankly, Carl Sands doesn't strike me as being that stupid or obsessive. And it would be quite the lousy defense attorney who couldn't convince a rational client to dress up for court. And if a defendant insists on being disruptive during his trial, he may be restrained with shackles. But Sands appears to be quite composed and cooperative.

So, long story short, all signs point to the conclusion that Carl Sands should not be shackled and in jail clothes during his trial. (As for the tube, metahuman powers might justify that. But since I don't think Sands is a meta anymore, it shouldn't be there either.)

A response to the above criticism said of this blog, "The 'corrections' on this site are wrong as often as not."

If that's what you believe, then please, call our bluff. I doubt we're that shoddy. But we're not infallible, and we're sure to make mistakes from time to time. If you think we've made a mistake, let us know, either in comment or e-mail. If you're right, then you've taught everyone a lesson and prevented us from making the same mistake in the future. And if you're wrong, then a clarification might help clear up misconceptions that others have (and to do that faster than it took me to find the above complaint). Either way, somebody learns something new, and that's a good thing.