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State v. Jackson

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

August 20, 2019

JOHN W. JACKSON, SR., Appellant.

          Sutton, J.

         John W. Jackson, Sr. appeals his conviction and sentence for second degree assault by strangulation. Jackson argues that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process when it used restraints on him during pretrial hearings and jury trial without conducting an individualized inquiry into the need for the restraints. He also argues that the trial court erred by imposing legal financial obligations (LFOs) despite his indigency. We agree that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process by failing to conduct an individual inquiry into the need for pretrial and trial restraints, but we hold that the errors were harmless. Accordingly, we affirm his conviction and remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the imposition of LFOs.


         The State charged Jackson with second degree assault for strangling his fiancée, Darci Black.

         At his first pretrial appearance, Jackson appeared before the court in a belly chain and shackles. Jackson's defense attorney objected to the restraints and moved to have them removed. The trial court reserved ruling until it received a response and it set a hearing at a later date. The trial court set bail at $35, 000 based on "the nature of the charges, the criminal history, [and] the fact that there's been at least four or five warrants over the years." Verbatim Report of Proceedings (RP) at 14.

         At an arraignment hearing a few days later, the trial court declined to lower bail because the court was concerned about whether Jackson would return, about the nature of the allegations, and about community safety. The trial court again declined to reduce bail at a later status hearing.

         The trial court subsequently held a hearing on Jackson's objection to restraints and motion for their removal. The hearing consolidated multiple defendants' motions regarding being shackled in their cases. The trial court said it would issue a decision that applied to the entirety of the Clallam County Superior Court.

         Six weeks later, the trial court issued a memorandum opinion "address[ing] all restraint/shackling motions currently before the court and reflect[ing] the unified position of the Clallam County Superior Court on this issue." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 64. The ruling acknowledged that "less restrictive means of furthering the compelling government interest of courtroom security" existed, which would "eliminate potential problems associated with defendants being so humiliated and distracted by their restraints that it interferes with their ability to communicate with their lawyers and would address concerns associated with the routine use of restraints affronting the dignified and decorous judicial process." CP at 65-66. The trial court envisioned implementing video conferencing as a less restrictive option, but it noted that the superior court would be unable to implement a video conferencing policy for several months.

          The trial court concluded that until the video conferencing policy could be implemented, the court would proceed under its previous ruling, which adopted the Clallam County Corrections Facility's shackling policy for all pretrial hearings. The previous policy considered general "security concerns associated with transporting varying numbers of in-custody defendants from secure facilities to less-secure courtrooms" and noted that Clallam County "is routinely limited by budget issues and staff shortages." See Motion to Supp. Record on Appeal at 12 (May 1, 2018). Under the policy, all criminal defendants would appear at pretrial proceedings in shackles, and the trial court would not consider motions for removal of the restraints during pretrial proceedings.

         When the case proceeded to jury trial, Jackson was fitted with a leg brace, which he wore under his clothes. The brace would lock into position when he straightened his leg. Defense counsel objected to the brace, noting that the trial court had not made any rulings about the use of this restraint during trial. The trial court responded:

At this juncture, I don't think there's anything inappropriate in having that limited security measure employed. To the extent that your client wishes to testify, we'll make sure that he gets into the witness box without the jury being present and seeing him perhaps have some difficulty walking. But, at this juncture, I think that it is appropriate to have some limited security and I think that the brace that is employed is certainly appropriate.

RP at 75.

         Black testified at trial. She said that Jackson drove her to a doctor's appointment. On their way home from the appointment, Jackson drove onto an industrial road and he and Black began having sexual intercourse. Jackson became upset, accused Black of cheating on him, and ripped Black's engagement ring off of her finger. Jackson pushed Black and started to strangle her, saying, "[D]ie, why don't you F'ing die." RP at 317. Jackson let go and then strangled Black a second and third time. Finally, Jackson released Black and starting crying and apologizing for almost killing her. Later that afternoon, Black told her sister that Jackson had tried to kill her and her sister called the police.

         The trial court admitted a series of text messages between Black and Jackson from the day of the incident. The messages were obtained from both Black's and Jackson's phones because Black had deleted several messages.[1]

         Dr. John Shima, an emergency room physician who evaluated Black the evening of the incident, also testified at trial. Dr. Shima observed that there were mild abrasions and bruises around Black's neck consistent with a strangulation event.

         Jackson testified in his defense. To avoid the jury seeing Jackson struggle to walk with his leg restraint to the witness stand, the trial court instructed Jackson to enter the stand before the jury entered the courtroom. Jackson asked the trial court if he needed to stand when the jury came in. The trial court asked if it was difficult for Jackson to stand with the restraint. Jackson's defense counsel responded, "I mean, he's been doing it, but the brace will be basically on the leg next to them, when he's sitting up there, it's on his left leg." RP at 448. The court continued, "I'll give you the oath seated, so just have a seat. Actually, if you're standing when they come in, is it problematic sitting down, I mean, is it observable?" RP at 448. Jackson responded, "They can actually see it. . . . Yeah, it's gonna be noticeable for them." RP at 448. The trial court instructed him to remain seated. RP at 448.

          Jackson testified as follows. The day before Black's doctor's appointment, Black and Jackson had sexual intercourse in a car. After Black's doctor's appointment the next day, Jackson drove her back to her parents' house. On the way to Black's parents' house, Black became irritable, and Jackson suggested she get her medication that helps with her anger. Once at Black's parents' house, Black went inside. When Black returned to the car, she started yelling at Jackson and accused him of cheating on her. After arguing for an hour, Jackson indicated that he was going to leave, at which point Black started punching him. Jackson ultimately got out of the car and started walking away. Black chased after him, yelling at him, and demanding he tell her who he was sleeping with. Eventually Black's sister yelled at Black to "just let him go Darc, just let him go." RP at 458.

         The jury found Jackson guilty of second degree assault. The trial court sentenced Jackson to 20 months confinement and imposed various LFOs.

         Jackson appeals his conviction and sentence.


         I. Pretrial & Trial Restraint

         Jackson argues that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process when it adopted the jail's blanket policy of shackling criminal defendants during pretrial proceedings, and by requiring him to wear a leg restraint during the jury trial without conducting an individual inquiry into the need to restrain him. We hold that the trial court violated Jackson's constitutional right to due process by failing to perform an individualized inquiry into the need to restrain him at the pretrial proceedings and at trial, but we further hold that these errors were harmless.

         A. Legal Principles

         We review constitutional claims de novo. State v. Lundstrom, 6 Wn.App. 2d 388, 393, 429, P.3d 1116 (2018), review denied, 193 Wn.2d 1007 (2019). A criminal defendant has a right to appear before the court "with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent man." State v. Finch, 137 Wn.2d 792, 844, 975 P.2d 967 (1999); U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV. The Washington Constitution provides, "In criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right to appear and defend in person." Wash. Const. art. I, § 22. Washington courts have long held that the right to appear and defend in person extends to "the use of not only his mental but his physical faculties unfettered, and unless some impelling necessity demands the restraint of a prisoner, to secure the safety of others and his own custody, the binding of the prisoner in irons is a plain violation of the constitutional guaranty." State v. Williams, 18 Wash. 47, 51, 50 P. 580 (1897). This includes the right "to be brought into the presence of the court free from restraints." State v. Damon, 144 Wn.2d 686, 690, 25 P.3d 418 (2001).

         "[R]egardless of the nature of the court proceeding or whether a jury is present, it is particularly within the province of the trial court to determine whether and in what manner shackles or other restraints should be used." State v. Walker, 185 Wn.App. 790, 797, 344 P.3d 227 (2015). Restraints are disfavored because they may interfere with important constitutional rights, "including the presumption of innocence, privilege of testifying [on] one's own ...

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