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State v. Brawley

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 14, 2016


          Argued December 15, 2015

          Christopher N. Parlato, for the appellant (defendant).

          Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state’s attorney, and Jason Germain, senior assistant state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.


          PALMER, J.

         The sole issue raised by this certified appeal is whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the defendant, Michael Brawley, is not entitled to a new trial even though the record provides no support for the ruling of the trial court requiring that the defendant remain shackled during his criminal trial. Although we agree with the defendant that he should not have been shackled throughout the trial, he has failed to establish that he was harmed by the shackling because, so far as the record reveals, the jury never saw the restraints. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         For purposes of this appeal, only a brief summary of the relevant facts and procedural history is necessary. In July, 2008, the defendant was apprehended for his alleged role in a series of burglaries in the town of Naugatuck, the purpose of which was to obtain money and an M-4 machine gun. Thereafter, the defendant was charged with multiple counts of burglary in the first degree and conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree, and one count each of kidnapping in the first degree, conspiracy to commit kidnapping in the first degree, assault in the second degree, carrying a pistol without a permit, and criminal possession of a firearm.

         On September 24, 2009, the defendant entered a plea of not guilty as to all counts and elected to be tried by a jury except on the charge of criminal possession of a firearm, for which he elected a court trial. At the start of the first day of the evidentiary portion of the trial, defense counsel moved to have the defendant’s shackles ‘‘removed predicated on good behavior.’’ The trial court denied the motion, stating that ‘‘the standard procedure is to leave shackles on during trial.’’ The trial court further explained that its standard procedure is to remove the shackles ‘‘only during . . . jury selection when a juror is in the back row . . . .’’ The trial court made no additional statements or findings regarding the shackling, and the issue did not arise again at any point during the defendant’s trial. Following a six day trial, the jury found the defendant guilty on all of the counts that had been tried to the jury, and the trial court found the defendant guilty of criminal possession of a firearm. The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury’s verdict and the court’s finding, and sentenced the defendant to a total effective term of thirty years imprisonment.

         The defendant appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment in a memorandum decision. State v. Brawley, 153 Conn.App. 903, 100 A.3d 62 (2014). Thereafter, we granted the defendant’s petition for certification to appeal, limited to the following issue: ‘‘Did the Appellate Court properly affirm the trial court’s determination that the defendant would be required to remain shackled throughout the guilt phaseofthe trial?’’ State v. Brawley, 315 Conn. 917, 107 A.3d 412 (2015).

         Following oral argument before this court, and in accordance with Practice Book § 60-2, [1] we directed the trial court to ‘‘inform this court whether the jury . . . was able to observe, or otherwise was aware, that the defendant was wearing shackles during trial.’’ We further directed the trial court to ‘‘state (1) the basis of its knowledge in that regard, and (2) the kind or type of shackles at issue, that is, leg irons, belly chain or the like.’’ In its response to our order, the trial court first explained that, because ‘‘the trial in question took place [more than] six years ago, ’’ it could not ‘‘state with certainty from its recollection what type of shackles the defendant wore or whether the shackles worn by the defendant were visible to the jury.’’ The court also stated, however, that ‘‘it [was] the court’s strong belief that the defendant wore leg shackles only and that they were not visible to the jury.’’ In support of this belief, the court observed that, ‘‘over its eighteen years of experience, it [could not] . . . recall presiding over any jury trial in which a party has worn a belly chain or the like.’’ With regard to whether the jury witnessed the defendant in shackles, the trial court further explained that, as a general matter, ‘‘it believes firmly in taking every measure to prevent the jury from doing so, ’’ and, to that end, the court’s standard procedure is to ensure that a defendant’s shackles are concealed by having a curtain placed around the defense table so that the jury cannot see the defendant’s legs, and by having the defendant seated at the table whenever the jury enters or exits the courtroom. Finally, the trial court stated that its review of the jury charge revealed ‘‘that the court made no mention of shackles, which the court would normally have mentioned if the jury had seen the defendant’s shackles, either inadvertently or as a result of the court’s orders.’’ Accordingly, the trial court concluded that there was ‘‘every reason to believe that the court prevented the jury from seeing the defendant in shackles and no evidence to support the contrary belief.’’

         On appeal to this court, the defendant claims, contrary to the conclusion of the Appellate Court, that, because the trial court failed to find that the use of restraints on the defendant during trial was reasonably necessary, its decision compelling him to remain shackled violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. Although conceding that the trial court did not provide any legitimate reason for the shackling, the state argues that the impropriety was harmless because the record is devoid of any evidence that the jury saw or otherwise knew that the defendant was shackled. We agree with the state.

         We begin our review of the defendant’s claim by setting forth the legal principles that govern our analysis. It is well established that, ‘‘[a]s a general proposition, a criminal defendant has the right to appear in court free from physical restraints. . . . Grounded in the common law, this right evolved in order to preserve the presumption favoring a criminal defendant’s innocence, while eliminating any detrimental effects to the defendant that could result if he were physically restrained in the courtroom. . . . The presumption of innocence, although not articulated in the [c]onstitu-tion, is a basic component of a fair trial under our system of criminal justice. . . . Nonetheless, a defendant’s right to appear before the jury unfettered is not absolute. . . . A trial court may employ a reasonable means of restraint [on] a defendant if, exercising its broad discretion in such matters, the court finds that restraints are reasonably necessary under the circumstances.’’ (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 454–55, 680 A.2d 147 (1996). Despite the breadth of that discretion, however, ‘‘[t]he law has long forbidden routine use of visible shackles during the guilt phase; it permits a [s]tate to shackle a criminal defendant only in the presence of a special need.’’ Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 626, 125 S.Ct. 2007, 161 L.Ed.2d 953 (2005); see also United States v. Haynes, 729 F.3d 178, 188 (2d Cir. 2013) (‘‘a defendant may not be tried in shackles unless the trial judge finds on the record that it is necessary to use such a restraint as a last resort to satisfy a compelling interest’’).

         ‘‘In order for a criminal defendant to enjoy the maximum benefit of the presumption of innocence, our courts should make every reasonable effort to present the defendant before the jury in a manner that does not suggest, expressly or impliedly, that he or she is a dangerous character whose guilt is a foregone conclusion. . . . The negative connotations of restraints, nevertheless, are without significance unless the fact of the restraints comes to the attention of the jury.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Webb, supra, 238 Conn. 455. ‘‘The defendant bears the burden of showing that he has suffered prejudice by establishing a factual record demonstrating that the members of the jury knew of the restraints.’’ Id.; see also State v. Tweedy, 219 Conn. 489, 507 n.14, 594 A.2d 906 (1991) (‘‘[a]lthough defense counsel claimed at trial that the defendant’s restraints were visible from the jury box, he did not create a record to substantiate that claim by making an appropriate offer of proof’’); State v. Woolcock, 201 Conn. 605, 616–17, 518 A.2d 1377 (1986) (because record contained no evidence that jury was aware of defendant’s shackles, ‘‘[t]he [defendant] has not carried his burden of providing an appellate record [that] supports his claim of error’’); State v. Williams, 195 Conn. 1, 10, 485 A.2d 570 (1985) (‘‘the record does not indicate . . . [and] the defendant [does not] claim that any offer of proof was made as to whether the jurors could or did view the restraints when on the defendant’’).

         When, however, ‘‘a court, without adequate justification, orders [a] defendant to wear shackles that will be seen by the jury, the defendant need not demonstrate actual prejudice to make out a due process violation. The [s]tate must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the [shackling] error complained of did not contribute to the verdict ...

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