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Florida High Court Bans Shackling of Youths

The Florida Supreme Court has banned the indiscriminate use of shackling of child offenders during court appearances.

The Florida Bar recommended that the high court change the laws regarding juvenile courtroom appearances after reviewing various circuit court's practices. Across the state, the procedures regarding shackling juvenile offenders vary by judicial circuit. In Miami-Dade County, children are rarely brought in with chains. But in some other circuits, all of the children are brought in shackled for safety.
The Florida Bar's Juvenile Rules Procedure Committee argued to have every child evaluated so that a 17-year-old armed robber wasn't treated the same as an 11-year-old who steals a candy bar.

The rule change, approved by the court, would eliminate the use of restraints unless the court found it necessary, based on a number of factors.

The court, in its opinion, agreed with the National Juvenile Defender Center's assessment, which said that indiscriminate shackling was “repugnant, degrading, humiliating, and contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice, a concept which this court has previously acknowledged.”

The court said it was also concerned that the use of restraints may violate a child's due process rights and the right to counsel.

“We agree with the proponents of this amendment that the presumption should be that children are not restrained when appearing in court and that restraints may be used only upon an individualized determination that such restraint is necessary,” the court wrote.

The court did receive some feedback against the proposal, including from the Office of the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, the Pinellas County sheriff's office and Sixth Circuit Judge Raymond Gross.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in June, Helen Beth Lastinger, counsel for the Pinellas County Sheriff's office, said the shackles were used mainly because of the unpredictability of juveniles. Children may be frightened or stressed and juvenile offender hearings often involve people who may antagonize the child and ultimately cause a problem, she said.

1 Responses »

  1. The National Juvenile Defender Center's language concerning the shackling of juvenile offenders, which the court agreed with is quite strong opposing the practice. It's interesting that the state of Florida has some of the highest numbers of inmates who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for offenses committed when they were only juveniles. Apparently life sentences for offenses committed by juveniles are not "repugnant or contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system". For more on two Florida cases involving life sentences that are currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, see http://askthejudge.info/is-a-life-sentence-for-a-13-year-old-cruel-unusual-punishment/562/#more-562