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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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