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United States v. Bell

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division

June 5, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff,
William Bell & Lenard Dixon, Defendants.


Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge

Presently pending before the Court are the Government’s Motions for Security Measures for Defendants William Bell and Lenard Dixon. [Filing No. 47; Filing No. 62.] The Government asks that both Defendants wear modified leg irons at the upcoming jury trial because of their violent institutional histories while incarcerated, violent criminal histories, and the pending criminal charges stemming from the alleged murder of a fellow inmate. [Filing No. 47; Filing No. 62.] The Government requests that if the Defendants are shackled with modified leg irons, ameliorative precautions be taken so the jury will be unaware of the restraints. [Filing No. 47 at 4.] The Court held a hearing on the pending motions on May 28, 2014, and took the motions under advisement. For the following reasons, the Court now GRANTS the Government’s motions as to both Defendants. [Filing No. 47; Filing No. 62.]


Applicable Law

The United States Constitution “forbids the use of visible shackles 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.” Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 624 (2005). But “[t]he right to be free from shackles at trial may be overcome in a particular instance by essential state interests such as physical security, escape prevention, or courtroom decorum.” United States v. Van Sach, 458 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotation omitted). Specifically, “under the constitutional right to a fair trial, ” the Court may shackle a prisoner at trial “if there is extreme need.” Lemons v. Skidmore, 985 F.2d 354, 357-58 (7th Cir. 1993). The extreme need standard is defined “as necessary to maintain the security of the courtroom.” Id. (citing United States v. Amaro, 985 F.2d 354, 358 (7th Cir. 1987)).

The Court bears the ultimate responsibility for the extreme need determination and cannot delegate its decision. Lemons, 985 F.2d at 358.It “must decide whether the defendant is a dangerous person prone to outbursts of violence, whether he must be restrained and, if so, what minimal restraint will appropriately protect the courtroom.” United States v. Brooks, 125 F.3d 484, 502 (7th Cir. 1997).

To determine if extreme need is present, the “primary focus is on the prisoner’s history of violence in the face of maximum security precautions.” Lemons, 985 F.2d at 357, 358 (quotation omitted). The Court “is entitled to rely on a variety of sources including but not limited to the prisoner records, witnesses, correctional and/or law enforcement officers and the federal marshals whose statutorily defined duties include providing for the personal protection of Federal jurists, court officers, and witnesses.” Woods v. Thieret, 5 F.3d 244, 248 (7th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The Court may also consider a prisoner’s violent criminal history. Id.

If the Court determines extreme need is present to shackle a prisoner at trial, the prisoner “is entitled to the minimum restraints necessary.” Lemons, 985 F.2d at 359. The shackles should be concealed from the jury. Maus v. Baker, 747 F.3d 926, 927 (7th Cir. 2014). If a prisoner is shackled at trial, courtroom security can typically be assured “by shackling the prisoner just at the ankles (skipping the handcuffs); and when that is done a curtain attached to the table at which he sits will hide the shackles from the jury’s sight.” Id.“If the prisoner is to testify, then seating him in the witness box before the jury enters and removing him from the box after the jury leaves for a break or for the day will keep the jury from seeing the shackles.” Id.

At the hearing on these motions, Mr. Dixon’s counsel argued that Mr. Dixon, and by extension Mr. Bell, has an inherent right to be free from shackles at trial, consistent with the presumption that they are innocent until proven guilty. She cited Harrell v. Israel, 672 F.2d 632 (7th Cir. 1982), which recognized in the context of shackling that the “presumption of innocence is considered a basic component of the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” But Harrell concluded that “a defendant’s right to appear and to have his witnesses appear without restraints is not absolute.” Id. at 635 (citing case law). In fact, Harrell noted that the harm to be avoided “is not the shackling itself but the prejudice that could result if the jury were allowed to continuously view the defendant restrained in that manner.” Id. at 637 (emphasis added). Thus, the Court rejects the argument that Defendants cannot be shackled under any circumstances without offending the presumption that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.



In support of its motions, the Government relies on each Defendant’s institutional disciplinary history reports from the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), as well as each Defendant’s criminal history. [Filing No. 47-1; Filing No. 47-2; Filing No. 62-1; Filing No. 62-2.] Neither Defendant objected to the admissibility of this evidence or presented any evidence challenging the factual representations therein. Additionally, at the hearing on these motions, the Government presented testimony from United States Marshal Deputy Gregory Snyder. The Court will separately consider the evidence as to each Defendant.

A. Government’s Request

The Government emphasized at the hearing that it is not requesting that either Defendant’s hands be restrained during the trial. Instead, the Government asks that both Defendants be restrained with modified leg irons fitted with tape and soft material to limit any ...

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