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North Dakota Courtroom Shackling Requires Independent Assessment by Judge

North Dakota Courtroom Shackling Requires Independent Assessment by Judge


by Mark Wilson


The North Dakota Supreme Court has held that a lower court abused its discretion by failing to independently assess the need for shackling a defendant during a civil commitment discharge hearing.

On January 11, 2006, Robert R. Hoff was civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person. He requested discharge in September 2011 and appeared at a March 2012 discharge hearing while in “handcuffs tethered to his waist and an ankle chain.”

Hoff’s attorney requested that the shackles be removed, but the court refused. “The sheriff makes the determination whether or not [defendants] can be secured while they’re here,” the court explained.

“Not my call, Your Honor,” a deputy stated. “The sheriff said no. They have to stay on.”

At the conclusion of the hearing the court denied Hoff a discharge, finding that he “continues to be a sexually dangerous individual.”

The state Supreme Court reversed, holding that “when Hoff’s counsel requested that Hoff’s restraints be removed, at a minimum, the court was required to engage in the analysis set out in” Interest of R.W.S., 2007 ND 37, 728 N.W.2d 326 (N.D. 2007). The trial court’s failure to do so was not harmless error; this was true even though the hearing was of a civil nature, not criminal, and there was no jury.

On remand, the lower court “must consider on the record the factors established in R.W.S. ... to determine if it is necessary to restrain Hoff” during the discharge hearing, the Supreme Court wrote. “If the court determines restraints are not necessary, it must conduct a new hearing free of restraints.” See: In re Hoff,2013 ND 68, 830 N.W.2d 608 (N.D. 2013).

Following remand, the trial court found that Hoff remained a sexually dangerous person. Hoff petitioned for another discharge in 2013; his petition was denied and he again appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed again on April 3, 2014, finding that the lower court had “made insufficient findings of fact on whether Hoff has difficulty controlling his behavior.” The Court remanded the case “for detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law on each legal element supporting the district court’s decision to deny Hoff’s petition for discharge.” See: In re Hoff, 2014 ND 63 (N.D. 2014).



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Related legal cases

In re Hoff


In re Hoff