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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit rules in Indiana case where defendant wore stun-belt throughout trial

In Wrinkles v. Buss (SD Ind., Judge Tinder), a 53-page, 2-1 opinion, Judge Kanne writes:

This case is before the court on collateral review. In 1995, a Vanderburgh, Indiana, Circuit Court jury convicted Matthew Wrinkles of murdering his wife, his wife’s brother, and his sister-in-law. The jury recommended and Judge Richard L. Young imposed a death sentence. Wrinkles unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence to the Indiana Supreme Court, and thereafter, Judge Carl Heldt of the Vanderburgh Circuit Court denied his request for post-conviction relief. Wrinkles then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Wrinkles argued that his constitutional rights were violated during the trial and sentencing proceedings because, pursuant to the Indiana trial judge’s blanket policy of restraint, he was required to wear a stun belt that he alleges was visible to the jury.

Wrinkles was barred from raising a direct challenge to the constitutionality of the stun belt because he procedurally defaulted the claim in state court. Wrinkles instead claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), because his counsel failed to object to the imposition of the stun-belt restraint. With respect to the prejudice prong of Strickland, Wrinkles claimed that the jurors saw the stun belt, and that he presumptively suffered prejudice as a result. United States District Judge, John Daniel Tinder, concluded that Wrinkles could not demonstrate prejudice because the jury was not aware of the stun belt.

Wrinkles’s habeas claim hinges on whether the jurors saw the stun belt during the trial and the sentencing proceedings. One passage in the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion—actually, one sentence—complicates our review. We ultimately conclude that the Indiana Supreme Court made no factual finding regarding the belt’s visibility. The last state-court decision on point—the post-conviction court decision—holds that the jurors did not see the belt. We defer to that finding and agree with the district court that Wrinkles suffered no prejudice from his counsels’ failure to object to the stun belt. * * *

Without evidence that the jurors saw the stun belt, or that he was otherwise affected by the stun belt throughout trial, Wrinkles cannot demonstrate prejudice. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. He therefore cannot show that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, so he cannot demonstrate the requisite cause and prejudice necessary to overcome his procedural default. Guest, 474 F.3d at 930. Thus, this Court is procedurally barred from examining his freestanding stun-belt claim and must deny the writ.

III. CONCLUSION. The decision of the district court is AFFIRMED.

[p. 35 of 53] ROVNER, Circuit Judge, dissenting. I agree with my colleagues that Matthew Wrinkles’s trial attorneys were deficient in failing to object to the trial court’s insistence on the use of restraints absent judicial findings that Wrinkles presented a security threat or otherwise required physical restraints. I cannot agree, however, that Wrinkles was not prejudiced by counsels’ error. The natural reading of the opinion of the Indiana Supreme Court in Wrinkles II is that several jurors were aware of the stun belt during the trial. In light of that finding, Wrinkles has shown both the inherent prejudice that accompanies visible restraints and other detriments specific to his case. Only through a tortured interpretation of the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion, with which not even the respondent agrees, does the majority conclude that Wrinkles was not prejudiced by his attorneys’ error. I would not wager a man’s life on the correctness of the majority’s grammatical parsing, and therefore I respectfully dissent. * * *

Finally, even if I could accept my colleagues’ strained characterization of the Indiana Supreme Court’s statements on the visibility of the stun belt, I would find it difficult to accept their reflexive conclusion that Wrinkles was not prejudiced. The jurors’ awareness of the restraint aside, Wrinkles also argues that he could not fully and meaningfully participate in his trial while strapped to a torture device. This argument was a logical application of existing Supreme Court precedent on restraints, and competent counsel would surely have raised it in response to the trial court’s illegal “policy.” The majority dismissively concludes that Wrinkles did not present “evidence” that the stun belt “affected his abilities to participate in his own defense,” ante at 35. Not only did he present such evidence (see discussion ante at 51-52), in my view a court need not abandon its common sense when considering whether being forced to wear, with no justification, a device that delivers an unstoppable, 8-second, 50,000-volt shock might affect a defendant’s participation and demeanor, and, relatedly, the jury’s impressions of him. For this reason, and more importantly because of the prejudice stemming from the jurors’ awareness that Wrinkles was restrained with a stun belt, I respectfully dissent.

Here is a link to the Ind. Supreme Court decision referenced, Wrinkles v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1179, 1186 (Ind. 2001) (“Wrinkles II”), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1019 (2002)

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 12, 2008 01:38 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions