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November 21, 2013

New trial ordered for defendant shackled in front of jury

The Court of Appeals reversed a conviction and ordered a new trial where the jurors saw the defendant in shackles in a case that came down to a credibility contest.

The panel's per curiam unpublished opinion in People v. Relerford concludes that permitting the jury to see the defendant shackled, without making specific findings that the shackling was necessary, violated his constitutional rights. The particular court had a policy of shackling all criminal defendants, regardless of perceived danger. Moreover, the error was not harmless and requires reversal of the conviction and a new trial. The trial in question was largely a credibility contest between the defendant and another witness, and the appellate panel held the remainder of the prosecution's evidence was not sufficiently compelling for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt without the witness testimony. Where credibility was a critical issue, allowing the jurors to see the defendant shackled without good reason was enough for a new trial.

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