May 24, 2005 – The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that defendants in capital murder cases should not be forced to wear shackles in front of juries that decide their fate, except in specific circumstances.
The case involved Carman L. Deck, a Missouri man who was convicted of a July 1996 murder. After the jury imposed the death penalty, Deck appealed on the basis that his appearance before the jury in leg irons, handcuffs and a belly chain made him seem menacing and unfairly influenced their decision. In 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court agreed and tossed out his death sentence.
In Monday's 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court justices held that the Constitution allows defendants to be seen in shackles during the trial or penalty phases only on a case-by-case basis, when the person presents specific security threats.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said: "The use of shackles can be a thumb on death's side of the scale."
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Court's decision "risks the lives of courtroom personnel, with little corresponding benefit to defendants."