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3 judges dissent on rehearing denial in stun belt case

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The full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to not rehear an Indiana case about a convicted murder’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims relating to a stun belt used in court, though three judges disagreed and felt the northern Indiana federal judge’s decision should be upheld.

An order came from the 7th Circuit today in John M. Stephenson v. Bill Wilson, superintendent of Indiana State Prison, No. 09-2924, with three dissenting judges writing about their disagreement in denying a rehearing en banc request. Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote a 20-page dissent, which included a page of photos from news video depicting the man’s stun belt during trial. Judges David Hamilton and Ann Williams joined the dissent, essentially challenging the Supreme Court of the United States to consider taking the case if a certiorari request is made.

In August, a three-judge panel – led by authoring Judge Richard Posner - reversed a 2009 ruling from U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana that Stephenson didn’t receive ineffective assistance of counsel during trial.

Stephenson was convicted by a jury in 1997 for three murders and sentenced to death. Four jurors later said in affidavits they were aware Stephenson was wearing a stun belt. After he unsuccessfully appealed to the SCOTUS, Stephenson filed a writ of federal habeas corpus and Judge Springmann tossed out his capital sentence on the stun belt claim, but didn’t rule on other issues he raised.

The 7th Circuit last year ordered the District judge to reconsider her ruling, finding that the question of prejudice from the stun belt wearing at the penalty hearing requires more consideration. Stephenson filed a petition for rehearing en banc in September, and now a majority of the judges are denying that.

But Judge Rovner found that the majority’s analysis overlooks “the inherent unquantifiable prejudice of a visible restraint” and that the rationale is otherwise inconsistent with SCOTUS precedent on this subject.

“Although the Supreme Court’s cases on restraints have dealt with shackles rather than stun belts, there is no reason to think the Court would treat a visible stun belt any differently than other types of visible restraints,” Judge Rovner wrote.

She stated that the panel decision’s analysis began on the wrong foot in failing to acknowledge that inherent prejudice of a visible restraint, and that SCOTUS precedent must be applied starting with that recognition.

Judge Rovner wrote that she doesn’t doubt the evidence against Stephenson was sufficient to convict him, but both the inherently prejudicial nature of a visible restraint and the lack of overwhelming evidence establishing his guilt show that he’s established a “better than negligible probability that he might have been acquitted had he not been noticeably restrained.”

Stephenson is entitled to a new trial as the District judge concluded, but Judge Rovner wrote that the panel’s conclusion that his claim fails because more concrete proof of the stun belt impact is not consistent with higher caselaw. The panel’s decision to remand on the penalty phase aspect isn’t adequate, she wrote.

“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,” Judge Rovner wrote. “The proper course would be for this court to affirm the district court’s decision.”
 

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  • The King's Court
    Forcing a defendant to wear a stun belt, in court or otherwise, is a violation of american principles! It is also unconstitutional!

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  1. Ah yes... Echoes of 1963 as a ghostly George Wallace makes his stand at the Schoolhouse door. We now know about the stand of personal belief over service to all constituents at the Carter County Clerk door. The results are the same, bigotry unable to follow the directions of the courts and the courts win. Interesting to watch the personal belief take a back seat rather than resign from a perception of local power to make the statement.

  2. An oath of office, does it override the conscience? That is the defense of overall soldier who violates higher laws, isnt it? "I was just following orders" and "I swore an oath of loyalty to der Fuhrer" etc. So this is an interesting case of swearing a false oath and then knowing that it was wrong and doing the right thing. Maybe they should chop her head off too like the "king's good servant-- but God's first" like St Thomas More. ...... We wont hold our breath waiting for the aclu or other "civil liberterians" to come to her defense since they are all arrayed on the gay side, to a man or should I say to a man and womyn?

  3. Perhaps we should also convene a panel of independent anthropological experts to study the issues surrounding this little-known branch of human sacrifice?

  4. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  5. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

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