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Name: People v. Soukomlane
Case #: F052781
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 04/23/2008

The trial court has relatively narrow discretion in permitting shackling of a criminal defendant at trial and it is a violation of both federal and state due process to permit shackling without a showing of justification or need. The court granted appellant’s motion to represent himself and before jury selection, appellant made a motion requesting an order banning shackling. The motion was denied. Appellant continually raised the motion, adequately documenting how the shackles were apparent to the jury, disrupted his ability to represent himself, and were not justified by his behavior. The court on the record agreed that there ha been no “physical altercation or physical out lashing,” but continued to deny the motion, stating that it would instead instruct the jury to disregard the shackling. Because the shackling constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion under both federal and state standards, the judgment was reversed. Involuntary exclusion of a pro per defendant from the courtroom is a violation of the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial. After appellant had objected several times to the prosecution’s direct examination of a key witness, the court ordered appellant removed from the courtroom during the remainder of the direct examination. Finding that this action deprived appellant of his presence at trial as well as that of legal representation, and that it could not be shown that the action was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellate court ordered reversal on this basis also. The concurring opinion provided a list of steps for the trial court judge to take when confronted with difficult circumstances presented by a pro per defendant in a felony case, including the appointment of standby counsel.