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People vs. Clyde 2011

This case presents a significant case which determines whether a fair trial can be achieved when the defendant has been ordered by the trial court to appear before the jury with evident fetters without considering that this would act as fundamental evidence of guilt or that it would undercut the supposed innocence.

The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) was founded in 1986 with the main purpose to defend the rights of criminal defendants using a unified, well-trained, and strong, criminal defense bar. Some of the goals that were stipulated during its formation included advocating for the rights of criminal defendant, advancing policies that support humane criminal justice, submission of briefs on significant issues so that the criminal justice could be administered, and leadership. The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) submits briefs to support the decision of the fourth Department which stipulates that the conviction of a defendant can be vacated if the court ordered that a defendant appears before the jury in leg irons or in shackles without explaining the reasons for the decision by recording and without providing instructions to the jury to overlook the shackles and not to consider them as an initial sign of guilt. Fourth department filed a direct appeal citing that the trial court committed a reversible error by failing to provide documented records for its resolve for restrain Clyde in shackle during trial. Majority disputed the claim by the court that the error was harmless. The court further clarified that the shackles never contributed to the conviction of the defendant.

Procedural History/Statements of Facts

Each has serviced the court with briefs that contain detailed accounts and facts about the case. Clyde was an inmate in Auburn Correctional Facility at the time he was charged with four counts. First, he was charged with one count attempted rape, a count for promoting prison contraband, two counts of assault, and lastly a count for unlawful imprisonment. Before, the jury could conduct selection, the appellant sought to “Proceed Pro se” and the court yielded to his request. On December 4th , 2007, the jury began the trial and by December 7th , the jury pronounced Clyde guilty of all the counts. The fourth department filed a direct appeal citing that the trial court committed a reversible error by failing to provide documented records for its resolve for restrain Clyde in shackle during the trial. A majority disputed the claim that the error was harmless. The court further clarified that the shackles never contributed to the conviction of the defendant.

The issue at hand is whether a fair trial can be achieved when the defendant is ordered by the trial court to appear before the jury in shackles without tangible reasons for that particular decision and without providing the jury with instructions not to consider such an action as an indication of guilt. We shall state reasons coupled with references from the respondents notes to show that the answer to the above issue is ‘no’. The implication is that the fourth department decision needs affirmation.

It is evident that the court committed an error according to Federal Constitutional Law. It is therefore in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide whether the error committed by the trial court is indeed harmless. The Supreme Court pronounced the matter was in the hands of states to provide proofs beyond any reasonable doubt that ordering Clyde to appear before jury is shackles was harmless to him. This is because the federal law states that harmless errors are also applicable to shackle errors. The main issue is whether the court’s error was indeed harmless to the defendant and whether it did not influence the decision of the jury.

The Federal Constitutional Law states that a defendant has the right to be free from visible shackles unless there is a record of statement stating otherwise. Nevertheless, the error of ordering that a defendant is supposed to appear to appear with shackles in trial is not automatically reversible. A constitutional is only considered harmless when, with proper evidence, there is no reasonable probability the shackles may have affected the verdict given by the jury (People v Douglas, 4 N.Y.3d 777, 779 [2005]). There are two important factors to consider in determining whether a constitutional error is harmless. First, the causal effect that the error might have had on the jury and the second fact is the nature and quantum of evidence provided against the defendant (People v Hamlin, 71 N.Y.2d 750, 756 [1988]). A decision is to be made whether the jury would have acquitted Clyde had it not been for the shackles and whether the quilt in Clyde faces was irresistible.

Using restrain in criminal trial is considered as very damaging to the defendant. In this case, many people agree that no one should be ordered to appear in court with shackles unless the trial provides reasons in document form for the restrain. This is mainly because the constitutional law forbids the use of shackles in the penalty as well as in the guilty phase. In addition, freedom from restrain is an essential element during trial court. The history of judicial opposition of shackling reveals that shackling weakens the supposed innocence which is a fundamental component of fair trial in any judicial system. 

There was overwhelming evidence that Clyde was found guilty of all the counts. The ability of Rebich to identify Clyde as well as DNA evidence clearly confirmed the guilt. Therefore, there is no reasonable doubt that Clyde would have been acquitted by the Jury had it not been for the shackles. It is very obvious that any jury faced with a case of shackled defendant who is accused of attempting to rape a civilian and / assault would conclude that the shackling was a precaution measure due to the nature of the crimes he or she is charged with. In other words, the shackles would have limited impact on the jury’s verdict as compared to the tangible evidence of the crime.

In the count of the attempted rape, there was a reasonable evidence that Clyde was in the alleyway where the civilian employee often passed. There was also evidence that he attacked the female victim and brought in items that he was using to silence and restrain her, that he tried to incapacitate the female victim, and that he forced his victim to the floor. The given information that confirmed that Clyde had an ejaculation minutes before leaving the scene of the crime. Therefore, the jury would be justified to conclude that Clyde had attempted to rape the female victim. From the above stated evidence, it is evident that the Supreme Court erred in dismissing the attempted rape charge on account of the insufficient evidence. The observation by the trial court that shackles were just precautions given the nature of charges against the defendant is very correct. I also agree with the court that the error of shackling was very harmless and did less in informing their verdict.  As a matter of fact, the Clyde’s case could have justified the use of shackles during the trial.

For the reason stated above, it is obvious that shackling was a harmless error since there was tangible evidence that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant was indeed guilty of all the charges. 

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