tampabay.com

Lawyers want kids unshackled in court

The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office asks the Juvenile Court to stop forcing suspects to appear in restraints.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN and KEVIN GRAHAM
Published September 13, 2006


Public defenders in South Florida started a campaign this week to stop forcing child suspects to appear in court in handcuffs and leg shackles.

The Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office filed a series of motions Monday with Juvenile Court judges seeking an end to the practice and said it would seek support from the Florida Bar for a statewide prohibition.

In the first legal test, a Miami-Dade circuit judge agreed to let most juveniles appear before him without handcuffs or leg shackles.

"It's an appalling spectacle to see all detained children paraded into court with their wrists in handcuffs and ankles bound in leg irons," said Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice places all youths in handcuffs, waist chains and ankle shackles while transporting them. Individual judges have discretion to remove shackles from offenders appearing in their courtrooms.

Public defenders in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties said they applauded the effort by their colleagues but did not anticipate filing similar motions.

"I wish them well," said Ron Eide, the chief assistant in Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger's office.

Several years ago, Dillinger filed motions to stop the practice of shackling juveniles, Eide said. But Judge Frank Quesada turned down his request.

John Skye, assistant public defender in Hillsborough County, said removing shackles from juveniles comes with a "host of legal problems" that have to be addressed.

"While we are entirely sympathetic to the situation and the idea, we wish the Public Defender's Office in Miami all the luck in the world, and we agree with everything in their motion," Skye said. But "the approach we are taking right now is to have a dialogue."

Skye said Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis plans to meet locally with judges, lawyers and the Department of Juvenile Justice in the next couple of months. The issue of unshackling juveniles, Skye said, is one that they likely will discuss.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice said the practice is justified because some youthful suspects are accused of serious crimes, such as murder and armed robbery.

"It is the agency's responsibility to minimize their risk of escaping," said Cynthia Lorenzo, the department's chief of staff.

Broward County's public defender, Howard Finklestein, said he also intends to file similar motions.

"These are children, and we are treating them like wild animals," Finklestein said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.