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Forcing WV Prisoner to Wear Jail Garb At Sentencing Violates Due Process Clauses

Jeffrey Finley, a West Virginia state prisoner, was convicted of murdering his neighbor. The trial court, believing it had unfettered discretion to make him wear jail clothes at sentencing, denied his request to wear street clothing and forced him to wear a bright orange jail uniform. The jury sentenced him to life without mercy, and Finley appealed.

On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court acknowledged that state rules allowed trial courts to deny criminal defendants' requests to wear street clothes at trial or sentencing hearings under some circumstances. However, the Court also found that the due process clauses of both the federal and state constitutions precluded trial courts from forcing criminal defendants to wear jail garb in front of the jury without a compelling reason.

Since the trial court hadn't shown good cause for making Finley wear jail clothes at his sentencing hearing, the Court held that doing so violated his due process rights. The case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing and re-sentencing if appropriate. See: State of West Virginia v. Jeffrey Finley, 219 W.Va. 747, 639 S.E.2d 839 (W.Va., 2006), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

State of West Virginia v. Jeffrey Finley