Deck v. Missouri

PETITIONER: Carman L. Deck
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 04-5293
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Missouri

CITATION: 544 US 622 (2005)
GRANTED: Oct 18, 2004
ARGUED: Mar 01, 2005
DECIDED: May 23, 2005

Cheryl C. Nield - argued the cause for Respondent
Rosemary E. Percival - Attorneys for Petitioner, Counsel of Record
Thomas H. Speedy Rice - for the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales et al. as amici curiae

Facts of the case

After the Missouri Supreme Court set aside Carman Deck's death sentence, Deck was presented at his new sentence hearing shackled with leg irons, handcuffs and a belly chain. Deck was again sentenced to death. The state supreme court rejected Deck's claim that his shackling violated the U.S. Constitution.


Does shackling a convicted offender during the penalty phase of a capital case violate the due process clauses of the Fifth and 14th Amendment?

Media for Deck v. Missouri

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 2005 in Deck v. Missouri

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 23, 2005 in Deck v. Missouri

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Deck versus Missouri will be announced by justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The petitioner, Carman Deck was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The question before us is whether the constitution permits Missouri officials to shackle Deck with visible restraints, leg irons, handcuffs, and a belly chain during the sentencing stage of his capital proceedings.

We answer the question, no and we do so in three stages.

First, we consider shackling during the guilt state of a criminal trial.

We hold that the Constitution's Due Process Clause embodies a well established shackling rule or anti-routine shackling rule that is the rule cannot be routine.

The rule prohibits the use of physical restraints visible to the jury in the absence of a trial court determination in the exercise of the courts discretion that shackling is justified in the particular case by an essential state interest for example, the interest in courtroom security.

But you have to look at the particular trial and the particular defendant.

Blackstone in the 1800's described this rule as "written in our ancient books", a rule like it.

The Court has referred to that kind of rule in earlier cases with approval and in doing so, the Court has made clear that even though shackles may be less painful to the defendant today than in Blackstone?s time, strong reasons still exist in support of that kind of rule.

The reasons are related to the presumption of innocence, to the right of an accused to assist in his defense, and the need to maintain courtroom dignity and decorum.

Second, we consider the guilt stage in the capital case and we go on to hold that the same rule applies at the sentencing stage of a capital case.

At that stage, the defendant has already been convicted, so the presumption of innocence no longer applies, but still, the jury has to make a choice between life and death and that is a choice where accuracy is no less important.

But the defendant's appearance in shackles almost inevitably implies that court authorities consider him a danger to the community.

It almost inevitably affects adversely the jury's perception of the defendant's character and thereby almost inevitably undermines the jury's ability to weigh accurately all relevant considerations when determining whether the defendant deserves death.

For these reasons, we conclude the Constitution applies the same rule forbidding the routine use of shackles unless the trial judge finds them necessary to further an essential state interest say the interest in courtroom security in a particular case.

In saying this, we recognize the importance of maintaining courtroom security.

We do not underestimate the need to restrain dangerous defendants in certain cases.

But a case and defendant specific determination of that special need should help to maintain necessary security without undermining a general rule that forbids any routine use of shackling.

Third, we consider Missouri's arguments that in any event its shackling decision met the requirements we have set forth and for reasons that we set out in our opinion, we find those case specific arguments unconvincing.

For these reasons and for other reasons set forth in the opinion, the case is reversed and remanded.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia has joined.