The girl was only 3-foot-7-inches tall and 11 years old, but she was shackled as she was led to juvenile court at Tallahassee’s Leon County Courthouse.
Not just handcuffs, but a belly chain connected to both handcuffs and to leg irons — usually reserved for adults who are flight risks or charged with first-degree murder.
Carlos Martinez, chief assistant public defender for Miami-Dade’s 11th Circuit, watched from the spectators’ seats and was shocked by what he saw.
“It’s horrific. It’s an affront to our decency. It doesn’t matter if it’s a misdemeanor. If the child is detained by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the child will be brought in shackles like an animal. It’s happening across the state.”
Martinez, vice chair of the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee, will bring the issue up when the committee meets September 14, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Bar’s General Meeting at the Tampa Airport Marriott.
“The problem is that it is across the board, with no individualized determination,” Martinez said. “It’s pretty offensive to our sense of dignity in the courtroom. There is no age limit, and it doesn’t matter what crime the child is charged with.”
Martinez said information he has received from the National Juvenile Detention Center in Washington, D.C., is that in jurisdictions other than Florida, children have been chained together, but “they had never seen the shackling of kids they had seen in Florida, with three connected chains.”
In the 11th Circuit, he said, “We have filed a memo with local judges asking them to stop shackling children in court. One of the things we found out is that DJJ, in the last couple of years, has been shackling kids when they transport them. Unfortunately, judges have kept them shackled in the courtroom.”
The response to the memo, Martinez said, “was not positive.”
“We tried to do it administratively, but we were unsuccessful,” he said.
The next step, he said, is to file legal challenges in individual cases.
And there will be an opportunity to air all sides of the issue when the Legal Needs of Children Committee meets.