Imagine getting a jury duty summons in the mail one day and going down to the courthouse to wait to either be selected or dismissed. When you arrive, you are led into a room and seated with other potential jurors. While sitting in the courtroom, you notice the state seal and portraits of past judges and you instantly feel like part of an age-long tradition and sense the importance of the proceedings that are about to take place. Then, the judge begins to speak. He introduces you to the prosecutor who stands before you in a neatly pressed suit and looking very official. Then you see the defense counsel looking equally professional. And finally, the judge introduces the defendant, whose life will change for the better or for the worse depending on your verdict. The man who is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty now stands before you in full shackles. Does this weaken the presumption of innocence in your mind? Do you sense yourself beginning to make assumptions about the handcuffed man in front of you? Is that how you would want to be presented to those who hold your fate in their hands? Or, would you want your attorney to do everything in his power, as your advocate, to prevent that?
The defendant in Torres v. State, was tried in full shackles and convicted of the crimes with which he was charged. His attorney asked only once that his client be unshackled, telling the judge it was within his discretion. He made no argument, and he did not insist.
Following the trial, the defendant moved for post conviction relief claiming that he did not have effective assistance of counsel during his trial, a right guaranteed by the Constitution, because his attorney did not press the judge to order that the shackles be removed prior to trial. The judge summarily denied the motion, adopting the State's response as its reasoning (that there was no proof the jury ever saw the shackles, that no prejudice had been proven, and that there was justification for keeping the defendant shackled during trial).
The appellate court reversed this decision reiterating that a defendant cannot be compelled to stand trial in shackles unless necessary to prevent an escape, disturbance, or injury. If the defense objects, the trial judge is obligated to hold a hearing or state on the record the justification. Unfortunately for the defendant, defense counsel did not object. Indeed, that is the basis for defendant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, which requires the defendant to show that his counsel's performance was deficient and that such performance prejudiced him by depriving him of a fair trial. Because the court summarily denied defendant's motion without an evidentiary hearing or attaching a record refuting his claims, defendant's allegations were held as true and the lower court was ordered to either hold an evidentiary hearing or attach portions of the record to justify the denial of defendant's motion for post conviction relief.
Torres v. State, 34 Fla. L. Weekly D863a (Fla. 4th DCA 2009).