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September 30, 2013

MSC reinstates convictions and sentences of defendant who was shackled during trial.

In People v. Arthur, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the trial court’s refusal to remove the defendant’s shackles so that he could move about the courtroom freely to act as his own attorney did not “nullify” his right to self-representation.  The defendant could still have represented himself from the defense table, the court reasoned, but elected not to do so.

Arthur was convicted of multiple criminal counts related to a kidnapping and attempted murder.  After the case was remanded for a new trial because of errors in the original proceedings, Arthur told the trial court that he wanted to represent himself.  The court granted the request, but refused to remove Arthur’s shackles.  Because he would not be able to move around the courtroom freely, or without the jury seeing his shackles, Arthur ultimately allowed appointed counsel to represent him.  On appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, Arthur argued that the trial court’s decision not to remove his shackles effectively denied him his rights of self-representation and due process.  The court of appeals agreed and reversed his convictions and sentences.  In lieu of granting leave, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an order remanding the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on its decision to keep Arthur in shackles during the trial.  After reviewing the trial court’s findings, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated Arthur’s convictions and sentences.

The court stressed that the right to self-representation is not without limits, and where a defendant poses a potentially violent threat, as the trial court believed Arthur did, the court may place a defendant in the “most reasonable restrictive restraints available.”  Finally, the court concluded that the trial court’s decision to shackle Arthur’s feet only did not violate a United States Supreme Court case stating that due process prohibits the use of restraints “visible to the jury.”  The evidence showed that Arthur’s restraints were not visible to the jury and that no juror actually saw the shackles.

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