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Md. court calls for end to shackling juvenile defendants

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Maryland’s second-highest court has called for an end to the shackling of defendants in juvenile court absent a clear security concern, saying the practice ill-serves the goals of rehabilitating the children, developing their character and protecting their mental and physical health.

“We see no reason why extending to children the right guaranteed adult criminal defendants to appear in court free of shackles, absent a particularized finding of need, would impede the objectives of the juvenile system,” Judge J. Frederick Sharer wrote in the Court of Special Appeals’ reported 3-0 decision Wednesday. “Indeed, a presumption against shackling would more closely serve those purposes while indiscriminate shackling threatens them.”

The appellate court’s strong statement, however, did not stop it from upholding a juvenile court’s decision to keep a boy shackled during a proceeding that concluded with him being found “involved” in snatching a person’s cellphone from her hand on a Baltimore street.

The shackling of the boy, identified in court papers as D.M., did not violate his due-process rights as the victim had identified him as the perpetrator when he was unshackled and the in-court restraints did not prevent him from taking notes and speaking freely with his attorney, the Court of Special Appeals held.

Judge Frederick Sharer. (File)

Judge J. Frederick Sharer. (File)

Brian Saccenti, D.M.’s attorney, voiced dismay Thursday that the appeals court had ruled against his client, but he praised the three-judge panel for its denunciation of routine shackling.

“They were very loud and clear that shackling can be allowed only in rare and exceptional circumstances and it can never be done as a matter of course,” said Saccenti, who heads the Maryland public defender’s appellate division. “The court has spoken pretty powerfully to the wrongfulness of shackling.”

Saccenti said the court’s opinion is being examined and no decision has yet been made regarding a request for review by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The state’s top court has yet to address the shackling issue in a case. However, the Court of Appeals approved a resolution last year that “adopts as policy the presumption against the shackling of children during proceedings in the juvenile court.”

“[A]gencies that are responsible for the transport or transfer of children, to, from, and within courthouses shall retain the discretion to employ practices that will ensure the security of the child and others,” the resolution states. “Once in the court or hearing room, however a child is to be unshackled and remain so absent a particularized security concern. The judge or juvenile magistrate conducting the proceeding shall determine whether the child needs to be shackled in the courtroom pursuant to this policy.”

The “Resolution Regarding Shackling of Children in Juvenile Court,” drafted by the advisory Maryland Judicial Council, lacks the force of law or a Court of Appeals-approved rule regarding practice and procedure in the state’s courts, the Court of Special Appeals stated in its opinion in D.M.’s case.

Nevertheless, Saccenti said, “most courts have really taken to heart the concerns expressed in the resolution.”

For example, the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s Division of Juvenile Causes – where D.M.’s case originated in 2014 — adopted the Court of Appeals policy as of March 8.

That juvenile court found D.M. involved in snatching a woman’s cellphone while she was walking on Pratt Street at about 9:50 a.m. on Aug. 5, 2014.

The woman told law enforcement that the thief was a boy between ages 10 and 12, wearing blue jeans with blue underwear visible above the pants and riding a blue and red BMX-style bicycle. Escorted by police to a nearby McDonald’s, the woman identified D.M. as the perpetrator and he was arrested.

On Nov. 6, 2014, D.M. was brought to court for an adjudicatory hearing before a master, who rejected a request from the boy’s attorney that the shackles be removed. The master subsequently deemed D.H. delinquent for the theft of property under $1,000.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge affirmed the delinquency determination after upholding D.H.’s shackling during the adjudicatory proceeding as not prejudicial.

D.M. then sought review by the Court of Special Appeals.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office declined to comment on the Court of Special Appeals’ decision.

Judges Timothy E. Meredith and Kevin F. Arthur joined the opinion by Sharer, a retired judge specially assigned to hear D.M.’s appeal. The case is In Re: D.M., No. 2712 September Term 2014.