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United States v. Seawright

United States District Court, D. Nevada

January 19, 2018




         Presently before the Court is Defendant's Objections (#21) to the Magistrate Judge's Order to Shackle Defendant. Though the time for doing so has passed, the Government has not filed a response.

         I. Background

         On December 15, 2017, Defendant appeared before Magistrate Judge Ferenbach in leg restraints. Prior to this initial appearance, the U.S. Marshals Office (“Marshals”) gave both counsel and the Magistrate Judge a prisoner restraint form which detailed why the Marshals felt leg restraints were appropriate for this particular Defendant. In this form, the Marshals recommended leg shackling based on Defendant's prior arrests for assault, two armed robberies, one of which was committed while Defendant was on parole. Based on this information the Magistrate Judge had Defendant brought into the courtroom in leg restraints. Prior to beginning Defendant's initial appearance, the Magistrate Judge held a hearing pursuant to U.S. v. Sanchez-Gomez, 850 F.3d 649 (9th Cir. 2017), to allow argument as to whether Defendant should remain in leg restraints for the remainder of the appearance.

         During this hearing, the Government stated that in addition to the Marshals' request, it too was requesting Defendant be placed, at a minimum, in leg restraints. Defendant had no factual objection to the Government's explanation, but instead stated that the Government's arguments were “not good arguments” under U.S. v. Sanchez-Gomez. Defendant argued there are three scenarios in which Sanchez-Gomez envisioned shackling, and that none of those scenarios were present here. Ultimately, the Magistrate Judge highlighted his responsibility to look at all factors, finding “. . . compelling reasons for the safety of others and to prevent escape that Defendant Seawright remain in leg restraints.” As such, Defendant remained in leg restraints during the hearing.

         On December 29, 2017, Defendant filed the present objections to the Magistrate Judge's ruling.

         II. Legal Standard

         “A non-dispositive order entered by a magistrate must be deferred to unless it is ‘clearly erroneous or contrary to law.'” Grimes v. County of San Francisco, 951 F.2d 236, 241 (9th Cir. 1991); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The clearly erroneous standard applies to factual findings, and the contrary to law standard applies to legal determinations. Grimes, 951 F.2d at 240. A magistrate judge's order is “contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.” U.S. v. Desage, 2017 WL 77415, at *3 (D. Nev. Jan. 9, 2017).

         Section 636(b)(1)(A) states a judge may reconsider any pretrial matter upon a showing that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Magistrate judges are given broad discretion and should not be overruled absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion. Anderson v. Equifax Info. Services, LLC, 2007 WL 2412249, at *1 (D. Or. 2007). As such, “[t]he reviewing court may not simply substitute its judgment for that of the deciding court.” Grimes, 951 F.2d at 241 (citing U.S. v. BNS, Inc., 858 F.2d 456, 464 (9th Cir. 1988)); see also Merritt v. International Broth. of Boilermakers, 649 F.2d 1013, 1016-17 (5th Cir. 1981) (“Pre-trial orders of a magistrate under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) . . . are not subject to a de novo determination as are a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations under § 636(b)(1)(B).”).

         III. Analysis

         Defendant argues the Magistrate Judge's decision to place him in leg restraints was inconsistent with Ninth Circuit precedent U.S. v. Sanchez-Gomez. Defendant heavily relies on the following language in Sanchez-Gomez: “‘In all [ ] cases in which shackling has been approved, ' we have noted, there has been ‘evidence of disruptive courtroom behavior, attempts to escape from custody, assaults or attempted assaults while in custody, or a pattern of defiant behavior toward corrections officials and judicial authorities.'” Sanchez-Gomez, 859 F.3d at 660 (quoting Gonzalez v. Pliler, 341 F.3d 897, 900 (9th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original)[1]). Defendant argues “[t]hese are the circumstances the Court must find exist before shackling a defendant, ” and that “[i]ndividual facts that do not involve the type of disruptive behavior identified in Sanchez-Gomez do not justify the use of shackles.” (#18, at 6). However, Defendant's tunnel vision on these examples mischaracterizes what Sanchez-Gomez requires.[2] The Ninth Circuit states it plainly:

[W]e hold that if the government seeks to shackle a defendant, it must first justify the infringement with specific security needs as to that particular defendant. Courts must decide whether the stated need for security outweighs the infringement on a defendant's right. This decision cannot be deferred to security providers or presumptively answered by routine policies.

Id at 666.

         The Magistrate Judge's finding possesses basis in law, and “the decision whether to shackle is entrusted to the court's discretion.” Sanchez-Gomez, 859 F.3d at 660. He made the specific determination that Defendant shall remain in leg restraints; this decision took into account argument from both Defendant and the Government, the recommendation of the Marshals, and the Magistrate Judge's own experience and discretion. Defendant has received that which Sanchez-Gomez requires: “an individualized decision that a compelling government purpose would be served and that shackles are the least restrictive ...

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