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Should Defendants Be Forced to Wear a Stun Belt During Trial?

On a violent night in June 1996, suspected drug dealer Robert Cleveland and his wife Monique were brutally shot at their home in Riverside County. Monique died immediately from gunshot wounds to her face. Cleveland survived and was able to identify his alleged attacker.1

Cleveland identified Jonathan Keith Jackson as the gunman and said the man entered their home looking for drugs. When Cleveland told Jackson that there were no drugs for him, he shot Cleveland in the face and back and Monique in the face as well.

When Jackson began his trial for charges of first-degree murder and premeditated murder, the evidence appeared to be stacked against him. While Cleveland was struggling to remain conscious Gen%204.jpg
after being shot, he wrote the defendant’s nickname, “Valley J,” in blood on the ground. According to another witness, Jackson also admitted to him that he murdered Monique and attempted to kill Cleveland.2

During his trial, Jackson was ordered to wear a REACT stun belt around his waist.

This belt is used to maintain courtroom security and an orderly trial if the judge feels the defendant is a threat. If the defendant gets out of line, an officer in the courtroom can pull the trigger and send a painful shock to the defendant. The shock will cause muscular weakness for 30-45 minutes. Side effects of the shock also include urinating and defecating.3

Why was Jackson Ordered to Wear the Stun Belt?

Maintaining an orderly and secure courtroom is a top priority for judges and all parties involved with a trial. If a judge feels that you can be disruptive or “stubbornly defiant” in a courtroom setting, he can order that you wear a stun belt. While he was being held in a Riverside County jail before his murder trial, Jackson refused orders from jail guards and even got into a physical altercation with another inmate.

Because Jackson had a history of rebelling against authority, the judge for his trial felt that one courtroom officer would not be enough to control him.

If you have been ordered to wear a stun belt during trial, it is because the judge feels that you are a threat to courtroom security. To be ordered to wear a stun belt, a judge must determine these three things:

  • There is an absolute need for the stun belt based on your prior behavior;
  • You have threatened or shown violent conduct and this is on your record; and
  • The court is able to make a determination on the record that the stun belt is necessary.4
  • The Unseen Consequences of Wearing a Stun Belt at Trial

    There are many risks to wearing a stun belt, some of which can negatively affect the outcome of your case. First, the psychological fear that comes with wearing a stun belt may scare you from making even the most basic gestures. This fear can keep you from effectively speaking with your attorney or giving testimony during the course of trial. Constantly worrying about a painful shock to your body may also keep you from actively focusing on the case.

    The belt can also have a psychological impact on the jury. If a stun belt is in any way visible to a juror, this may make him or her believe that you are in fact a violent person and were more likely to commit the murder you are being accused of.

    What Does This Say About Criminal Trials?

    The REACT stun belt can have unfair consequences that may change the outcome of your case. Wearing it during trial may be a violation of your Sixth Amendment and due process rights to actively participate in your case.

    The case of Jonathan Jackson highlights how powerful the judge’s discretion is in a court of law. It also shows the importance of maintaining the best behavior if you are being held in jail while waiting for your trial to begin.

    There are many ways to maintain an orderly courtroom. One court officer is usually assigned for this purpose. If the defendant is especially unruly, the judge can request for two officers to be present.

    Is the REACT stun belt really the best way to maintain an orderly courtroom? Should this be considered cruel or unusual punishment? Wallin & Klarich would like your opinion on this topic.


    1. [http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S086269.PDF]
    2. [Id.]
    3. [Id.]
    4. [Id.]

    About Wallin & Klarich

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    Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.