Currently in Ohio, there is no state law or Ohio Supreme Court policy regarding the shackling of juveniles during court proceedings. Each county juvenile court has its own policies and procedures for handling the shackling of juveniles. Many have a blanket policy of shackling all juveniles that appear before the court, rather than holding hearings to make an individual determination of need. The Hamilton County Juvenile Court’s current policy is that all juveniles escorted to and from the courtrooms will be handcuffed, forced to wear a belly belt chain restraint system and shackled at the feet. If there is more than one juvenile being transported at the same time, then all the juveniles will be handcuffed and shackled together.  We located a client, “C.J.,” in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court. She is a fourteen-year-old girl, with no prior juvenile record, who is charged with drug possession and trafficking. 

Legal Theory

The indiscriminate shackling of juveniles without first holding a hearing to determine whether the shackling is necessary violates the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, §10 of the Ohio Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the use of physical restraints in both the trial and sentencing stage of judicial proceedings violates a defendant’s right to due process. While there is no direct case law on point regarding juvenile shackling here in Ohio, there is a great deal of persuasive law from other states to support the argument that it is a violation of a juvenile’s due process rights as well. In recent years, eleven states have banned indiscriminate shackling of juveniles via legislation, regulation, appellate case law, or court policy. Filing a challenge would provide the ACLU with an opportunity to challenge indiscriminate shackling of juveniles here in Ohio.

Status Update

On February 28, 2014, C.J.’s public defender filed a motion for her to appear at a March 7, 2014 hearing without restraints. However, C.J. was forced to appear at the hearing wearing handcuffs, leg-shackles and a belly chain restraint. During the hearing, the magistrate declined to order the restraints removed and would not consider the motion.

On March 10, 2014, we filed a Writ of Prohibition with the Supreme Court of Ohio on C.J.’s behalf against the Hamilton County Juvenile Court and the Administrative Judge for the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Judge John M. Williams. The Writ requested the Court to declare the Hamilton County Juvenile Court shackling policy and practice to violate C.J.’s right to due process.

On March 19, the Supreme Court of Ohio referred the case to mediation.  Mediation took place via telephone on April 15, 2014, but no agreement was reached. The case returned to the regular docket on April 28, 2014.  

We submitted an application to dismiss the case on May 14, and the case was dismissed on May 19. 

Date filed

March 10, 2014