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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Locked Docks: Courtroom Cages for Criminal Defendants

     Long eschewed as prejudicial by American courts and by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, locked docks, either metal cells or enclosures made of glass or wood, are still common, not only in countries like Russia and Egypt where the judicial systems often face international criticism, but also in Western democracies, including Britain, France, Canada, and Australia….

     Critics often cite security concerns for using docks, either the risk that violent suspects pose to others, or the danger to defendants from potentially hostile spectators. Supporters say that when docks are used routinely, they do not attract notice or prejudice against defendants, but are crucial to safety….

     Although there has been little research on the potential influence of locked docks on the verdicts reached by judges or juries, experts argue that defendants are clearly put at a disadvantage. "All the evidence we can collect suggests that it's prejudicial," said David Tait, a professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia who has studied the issue….

     In the United States, docks have been virtually eliminated as a result of judicial rulings, including by the Supreme Court. Some states still have courtrooms with docks, but many are historic relics and are rarely used. Instead, some American courts discreetly chain the ankles of a potentially dangerous defendant to the floor. Others require an electric stun belt, which can deliver an immobilizing shock, to be worn under a defendant's clothes. As a security measure, the International Court in the Hague puts the entire spectator gallery behind a glass partition….

David M. Herszenhorn, "Presumed Innocent, but Caged in Court," The New York Times, November 18, 2013

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