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Restraining Inmate In Shackles During Section 1983 Suit Was Error, but Harmless

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By FindLaw Staff on June 22, 2010 3:52 PM

In Sides v. Cherry, No. 08-1982, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to a  jury verdict in favor of the defendant-prison officials, in a former inmate's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit, arguing that being restrained by handcuffs and leg irons throughout the trial denied him the right to a fair trial.

As stated in the decision: "[T]he district court took several appropriate steps to comceal the shackles from the jury, including directing that (1) a jacket be placed over Sides' hands, (2) an apron and boxes be placed around the plaintiff's table, and (3) the jury be removed from the courtroom before Sides took the witness stand."  The court also noted that the district court gave a cautionary instruction to the jury at the beginning of trial that cured any prejudice to the former inmate. 

Thus, in affirming, the court held that requiring a party in a civil trial to appear in shackles may well deprive him of due process unless the restraints are necessary.  Here, the court held that even if the district court erred in ordering that defendant be shackled during trial, that error was harmless.   

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