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Shackling juveniles in court 'necessary sometimes'

Aaron Krause • Mar 17, 2014 at 11:00 PM

While the ACLU of Ohio has expressed opposition to shackling juvenile defendants in court, Huron County Juvenile and Probate Judge Timothy Cardwell said the practice is "necessary sometimes."

He added some defendants have acted "very violently," injuring officers. The child can also try to harm him or herself, Cardwell added.

"Our position has always been if a child is in custody of law enforcement, law enforcement has the discretion to make sure that officers and others in the courtroom are safe in the way they deem best," the judge said.

Cardwell said if a defense attorney feels it's necessary to remove restrains to, for example, communicate with the client, his court has made such arrangements.

"We deal with the situation on a case-by-case basis," Cardwell said. He added his court has never received a complaint from a defense attorney or a juvenile defendant's family.

The ACLU of Ohio has filed a writ with the Supreme Court of Ohio, asking for a ruling that prohibits juvenile courts from shackling children without first holding a hearing to determine if it's necessary.

Cardwell said if the ACLU requests a hearing, that's fine.

Adult courts already require these hearings, and 11 states have also banned indiscriminate juvenile shackling. Nevertheless, juvenile courts in Ohio have been allowed to shackle children without holding a hearing, regardless of the child's age or the charges against them.

"Right now, courts in Ohio are doing to children what it is illegal to do to adults," said ACLU of Ohio Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Martinez Atzberger. "The mission of the juvenile court system is rehabilitation. Putting non-violent children in chains undermines that mission."

"Courts in many other states have already struck down the indiscriminate shackling of juveniles," Atzberger added. "Today we are asking the Supreme Court of Ohio to do the same."

The ACLU court filing deals specifically with a 14-year-old girl who has been charged with a non-violent drug offense in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. On March 7, the court forced the girl to appear in full body shackles without holding a hearing to determine if there was any actual need to restrain her. The child's attorney had filed a motion with the court specifically requesting that she be allowed to appear unrestrained.

"This child is five-foot-two. She has been charged with a non-violent offense, and she has no prior criminal record," said Atzberger. "A judge should be looking at facts like these to determine whether children really need to be locked in chains to keep court personnel safe. If the judge determines that restraints are truly necessary, the court still has the option to use them."

"These hearings are not just a formality; they are an essential part of due process under the law," Atzberger added. "As adults, we demand these rights. Children deserve no less."

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