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Shackling juveniles.

Among the annual reports from sections, divisions, and committees in the June issue, one sentence caught my attention: "Proposed Rule 8.100(b) prohibits the indiscriminate use of chains and shackles on detained juveniles in the courtroom."

I recalled a state legislator being chided as "Chain Gang Charlie" because he advocated, thankfully without success, the return of shackled adults to the state's prison work system. Then I would have laughed in disbelief, if someone told me that chains and shackles routinely were being imposed in a court of law--not on adults, but on detained juveniles. I'm not laughing now. This year, I began to represent juveniles in Alachua County, home of the state's flagship university. I had represented juveniles for years in the shadow of the University of Michigan. I do not recall having seen a single child shackled in that juvenile justice system, after the shameful practice was harshly criticized there more than 30 years ago.

I did know then that there were children in Florida subjected to corporal punishment so severe that black and blue marks would remain visible, weeks after they were inflicted, even on dark-skinned children. I looked at photos of them, which were being shown for a challenge taken to the U.S. Supreme Court to end that form of punishment, as being cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Florida prevailed. By a 5-4 vote, this state was allowed to continue to beat children in the classroom. Years later, I had the satisfaction of getting damages for a child who was victimized by that practice in Orlando.

But Florida apparently still does not get the message about what can be done by the state to a child who is said to be delinquent. In 2008, in Gainesville, Florida, not Abu Ghraib, not Guantanamo, detained juveniles come shuffling in orange sack-like jump suits with shackles around their ankles. Those are linked to hand restraints. The children are accompanied by at least two and sometimes three bailiffs. Those burly adults hover over them as they are brought to the microphone to stand next to a strange attorney or some other adult while the judge stares down at them politely, until he is satisfied that they know how to say "yes, sir," without rolling their eyes or being disrespectful.

When the proceeding is over, they may be asked to sign a form. The handcuffs remain on while they sign, before they are shuffled out again into detention.

Only one of my clients has been shackled to date. Since 2004, this five foot, 18-year-old mother of a two-year-old has been on probation almost continuously. Charges are nothing more serious than misdemeanor disorderly conduct and probation violations. I have seen her twice in shackles, each time for an alleged violation of probation. On the last occasion, she had gone to get her paycheck at her new job site after her 7 p.m. curfew.

When I said I would not represent her while she was in shackles unless the court ordered me to do so, I naively believed the judge would direct removal of the shackles. Instead, he ordered me, as an officer of the court, to represent her, while she stood rolling her eyes next to me. Whites are shackled, too, though so far I have not seen a shackled white female. But the vast majority are black.

In such regalia, the children's presumption of innocence cannot be taken seriously, certainly if they have been picked up at the request of a probation officer. Who would place an innocent in such restraints? They are just expected to stand there politely until punishment is meted out. The punishment always includes remaining in shackles, at least until they are removed from the room.

I look forward to the day when juveniles no longer are indiscriminately shackled in the courtroom. Apparently, in Florida, that is called progress.

Gabe Kaimowitz, Gainesville


The general principles which should ever control the lawyer in the practice of the legal profession are clearly set forth in the following oath of admission to the Bar, which the lawyer is sworn on admission to obey and for the willful violation to which disbarment may be had.

"I do solemnly swear:

"I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida;

"I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers;

"I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceedings which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land;

"I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law;

"I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my clients, and will accept no compensation in connection with their business except from them or with their knowledge and approval;

"I will abstain from all offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged;

"I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay anyone's cause for lucre or malice. So help me God."
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Kaimowitz, Gabe
Publication:Florida Bar Journal
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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