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Sorry Officer, You Can’t Sit There

Posted Wednesday, August 28, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

Can a defendant get a fair trial if a corrections officer is allowed to stand next to the witness chair while defendant is testifying?

This was the issue following a guilty verdict by a jury of James Gorman-Lykken after the defendant testified but did so with a corrections officer standing next to him on the witness stand.

Mr. Gorman-Lykken argued that the trial court erred in allowing the corrections officer to be stationed next to the witness stand during his testimony as a security measure because it would violate his right to a fair trial.

In reviewing this case on appeal, the court found the presumption of innocence to be a basic component of a fair trial under our criminal justice system and in preserving this presumption of innocence, the defendant is “ ‘entitled to the physical indicia of innocence which includes the right of the defendant to be brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent person.’ ” Courts have previously recognized that certain courtroom security measures are inherently prejudicial. This includes shackling, handcuffing, or other physical restraints.

In this case, the appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the corrections officer to be stationed next to the testifying defendant without analyzing whether case-specific reasons supported the need for that security measure. Accordingly, the conviction of Mr. Gorman-Lykken was reversed.

State of Washington v. James Wrenne Gorman-Lykken, No. 51254-8-II

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