The protection of courtroom personnel and the prevention of sabotage attempts by defendants through unruly behaviour is paramount in maintaining the integrity of the judicial process. There have been numerous cases where criminal defendants become violent towards courtroom personnel, use inappropriate language and threaten judges and witnesses. Judges have the discretion to use various sanctions to maintain the dignity and decorum of the courtroom and the judicial process. The sanctions used to deal with such behaviour in the courtroom include physical restraints such as handcuffs, gags and leg irons, verbal warnings, citations for contempt and expulsion of the defendants from the courtroom (Knitter, 2020). However, the use of physical restraint is a contentious issue where the defendants represent themselves in court proceedings. The use of physical restraints on a pro-se defendant is deemed infringing on the right of a fair trial as obligated by the sixth amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The physical restraints interfere with the pro-se defendant’s comprehension ability, lead to a communication breakdown with counsel, and disregard the trial process’s integrity. In addition, the physical restraints raise concerns of due process since they lead to jury prejudice. The physical restraints are deemed to undermine the presumption of innocence; thus, jurors assume the defendant is a dangerous individual and attach some level of guilt before the trial commences (Etemad, 2019). The presiding judge is responsible for improved controls in the courtroom since he/she should uphold the constitutional rights of personnel involved in trials, such as the right of due process.
Opportunities and Recommendations
There are various practices judges may use to maintain the dignity of the courtroom in the presence of a disruptive defendant. Physical restraints should be implemented in the presence of a particular need where such measures are reasonably necessary to avert atrocities in the courtroom, to prevent the defendant from escaping and provide safety to persons in the courtroom. The special needs include the findings that the defendant is a security or flight risk. However, there are specific procedures to follow in the implementation of physical restraints. The conditions include; a formal hearing that should be initiated outside the jury’s presence before restraining a pro-se defendant that gives the defendant a chance to challenge the purpose of restraints and mandatory appointment of counsel for pro-se defendants. These conditions allow the court proceedings to continue without infringing on the sixth amendment rights of the defendant.
Consequently, the presiding judge should enter into record reasons for ordering a physical restraint. Where the physical restraint occurs in the jury’s presence, the judge should demand that the bonds not be considered in determining the individual’s guilt. In-custody courtroom restraints should be used to prevent the jury from witnessing the defendant in physical restraints (Sabaratnam, 2018). An example of an in-custody restraint is the stun belt which is placed under the defendant’s clothing. The stun belt is not visible to the jury and public and is used to shock individuals who are aggressive in court through a wireless system. This system should only be used where defendants are deemed extremely dangerous or prefer them to other restraints.
In extreme cases, a violent and unruly defendant should be removed from the courtroom but not the court premises while the trial is in progress. However, the defendant should be given counsel regarding his/her right to return to the courtroom. The defendant has the right to resume the courtroom upon request and subsequent assurance of good behaviour. The judge should also use deadbolt locks to secure doors and create a safe zone in the courtroom to prevent interference in court proceedings. The use of handheld metal detectors is also necessary to initiate weapons checks before entering the courtroom. In addition, a pistol locker is most valuable to secure the storage of guns and prevent possible snatching of handguns by personnel.