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Friday, January 14, 2011

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana opinion (the "stun belt" case) and two others of interest from the 7th Circuit today

In Stephenson v. Wilson (ND Ind., Springmann), the brief Order reads:

On July 23, 2010, petitioner-appellee filed a petition for rehearing with suggestion for rehearing en banc, and on November 8, 2010, respondent-appellant filed an answer to the petition. The panel voted unanimously to deny panel rehearing, and a majority of the judges in active service have voted to deny the petition for rehearing en banc. The petition is therefore DENIED.
Circuit Judges Ilana Diamond Rovner, Ann Claire Williams and David F. Hamilton voted to rehear the appeal en banc in a 22-page dissent authored by J. Rovner that begins:
The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence makes clear that imposing a visible restraint on the accused is inherently prejudicial to his right to a fair trial. John M. Stephenson was required to wear a stun belt during the guilt phase of his capital trial without any inquiry by the judge as to whether such a restraint was justified nor any record that might have supported such a finding. Although the stun belt was no doubt intended to be a discreet restraint, the belt underneath Stephenson’s clothes was, in fact, readily visible to the jury and anyone else in his purview. My colleagues have concluded that Stephenson has not shown that he was harmed by his attorney’s unexplained failure to object to the stun belt and thus cannot demonstrate preudice for purposes of his claim that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 691-96, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2066-69 (1984). I believe their analysis overlooks the inherent, unquantifiable prejudice of a visible restraint and is otherwise inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions on this subject. * * *

[and concludes] Stephenson is entitled to a new trial, as Judge Springmann concluded. On this record, which reflects a total absence of case-specific evidence demonstrating a need for Stephenson to be restrained in the courtroom, there can be no dispute that being made to wear a readil yvisible stun belt deprived Stephenson of due process. As the Indiana Supreme Court found, the failure of Stephenson’s trial counsel to object to the restraint was unsupported by any valid strategic reason and instead is explained solely by counsel’s ignorance of the case law prohibiting visible restraints except in extraordinary circumstances. A single failing by one’s counsel will support relief under Strickland when the error is both egregious and harmful to the defendant, Murray v. Carrier, supra, 477 U.S. at 496, 106 S. Ct. at 2649, as it was here. The inherently prejudicial nature of visible restraints, coupled with the lack of overwhelming evidence of Stephenson’s guilt, adequately demonstrates that Stephenson was prejudiced by his attorney’s failure to object to the stun belt. The panel’s conclusion that Stephenson’s claim fails for want of more concrete proof that he was harmed by the unobjected-to stun belt is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recognition that such evidence is impossible to marshal and unnecessary given the inherently prejudicial nature of visible restraints.

The court has remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings, and there remains the possibility that the district judge might grant Stephenson relief as to the penalty phase of the trial, during which he also wore the stun belt. But whatever relief Stephenson might obtain as to the penalty phase will not address the prejudice he experienced vis-à-vis the jury’s assessment of his guilt. The proper course would be for this court to affirm the district court’s decision.

ILB: Page 22 of the opinion contains photos, but I am unsure of their significance.

In re: Trans Union Corporation Privacy Litigation, an opinion by Judge Posner, begins:

It is a curiosity of class action litigation that often there is greater ferocity in combat among the class lawyers over the allocation of attorneys’ fees than there is between the class lawyers and the defendants. The contest among the lawyers is a zerosum game. But the contest between them and the defendants is a positive-sum game because the class lawyers are naturally very interested in the fee component of any settlement, while the defendants care only about the size of the settlement, including fees. So the lawyers may be willing to settle for less for the class if the defendants will help them obtain a generous fee award, and the defendants will be happy to help them if the sum of the fee award and the relief granted to the class is smaller than it would be if the class lawyers pressed for more generous relief for the class.
Christina Jones v. Craig Clark and Donn Kaminski is a 17-page opinion by Judge Wood that is worth reading. Jones' offense appears to have been "reading meters while black." Here are some quotes:
Christina Jones is an employee of Commonwealth Edison (“ComEd”), which is the major electricity provider in the Chicago area. One day, while working in her job as a meter reader in Braidwood, Illinois, she was stopped and then arrested by Officers Craig Clark and Donn Kaminski. The officers were responding to a report that a “person of color” was taking pictures of houses in Braidwood. (Jones is an African-American, and Braidwood is almost entirely white. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Braidwood’s population in 2000 was over 97% white. See http://www.census.gov.) Jones sued the officers, alleging among things that the stop and arrest violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The defendant officers took the position that no constitutional violation had occurred because they reasonably suspected that Jones was involved in criminal activity at the time of the stop and they had probable cause to arrest her. The parties outlined their positions in cross-motions for summary judgment, and Officers Clark and Kaminski added that they were entitled to qualified immunity from suit, which allows public officials to avoid trial “ ‘insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’ ” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 517 (1985) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The district court concluded that factual disputes required a trial on the merits and similarly made it impossible to resolve the immunity question. In this appeal, Officers Clark and Kaminski urge that the undisputed facts entitle them to immunity. We conclude that the district court correctly saw that this case is not suitable for summary disposition, and we thus affirm.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 14, 2011 12:06 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions