24 August 2005 :the US Supreme Court ruled the US Constitution generally forbids the use of shackles for a defendant at a sentencing hearing to determine whether the death penalty will be imposed.
The court's 7-2 ruling in a case from Missouri was a victory for Carman Deck, who had been shackled in leg irons and handcuffed to a belly chain in front of the jury that considered whether he should be sentenced to death.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court majority that shackles may be used only if required for courtroom security specifically related to the defendant on trial, a situation that he described as "justified by an essential state interest." Breyer said Missouri did not justify the shackles in Deck's case.
He said the same standards for the most part apply for the use of shackles at sentencing as for the part of a trial to determine a defendant's guilty or innocence.
Deck's attorneys argued that use of the shackles, visible to the jury, violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. Attorneys for the state argued that Deck failed to show that the leg restraints and belly chain influenced the jury.
Deck confessed to robbing and killing an elderly couple, James and Zelma Long, in 1996 at their home. He was convicted of the two murders and sentenced to death.
In 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. Before his resentencing, defense attorneys said forcing him to appear throughout the hearing in leg irons and hand chains would violate his constitutional rights, would prejudice the jury against him and would make him look dangerous. The judge rejected their objections. After six hours of deliberations, the jury recommended the death penalty, a sentence imposed by the judge.
The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and ruled that a trial judge has discretion to impose security measures that include the use of restraints necessary to maintain courtroom order and security. It ruled that Deck failed to show the outcome of his sentencing had been prejudiced.