Published on: Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On December 8th, the United States Supreme Court granted the government’s petition for certiorari in United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, No. 17-312, to consider   “[w]hether the [Ninth Circuit] court of appeals erred in asserting authority to  review respondents’ interlocutory challenge to pretrial physical restraints and in  ruling on that challenge notwithstanding its recognition that respondents’ individual claims were moot.”  The Court declined to consider the second question presented by the government’s petition: “[w]hether the court of appeals erred in concluding that the Fifth Amendment forbids the United States Marshals Service for the Southern District of California, with the approval of the district judges in that high-volume jurisdiction, from implementing a policy of placing pretrial detainees in physical restraints during non-jury court proceedings.” 

In this case, the respondents are former federal pretrial detainees who made initial appearances before magistrate judges in the Southern District of California.  Pursuant to a security policy approved by the district judges, the Marshals Service produced each pretrial detainee in full restraints.  Respondents objected to the restraints but were overruled.  Three respondents filed emergency motions with the district court to revoke the security policy, but were denied.  In a consolidated appeal, a panel of the Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded for further proceedings, finding that the Southern District had "failed to provide adequate justification for its restrictive shackling policy."  The Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc and in a 6-5 decision held the security policy approved by the Southern District was unconsitutional.   The en banc court considered its own appellate jurisdiction, acknowledging that respondents' request for "relief not merely for themselves but for all in-cusotdy defendants in the district," did not fit within its limited jurisdiction over certain "immediately appealable collateral orders."  But the majority found that respondents' "class like claims . . . asking for class-like relief" could be treated as petitions for mandamus.  Moreover, the en banc majority concluded it was authorized to issue "[s]upervisory and advisory writs" through which it may "provide broader relief" than would be available under a typical writ of mandamus.  About mootness, the en banc court found it was authorized to decide this case by Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 102 (1973), which had permitted continuation of a civil class-action lawsuit notwithstanding the mootness of the plaintiffs' claims.  Turning to the merits, the en banc Ninth Circuit held that due process requires an individualized justification for visibly restraining a defendant before a jury during the guilt and penalty phases of a criminal trial "applies whether the proceeding is pretrial, trial, or sentencing, with a jury or without." 

The decision of the Ninth Circuit is here.  The petition for certiorari, response, reply and amicus filings at the certiorari stage are available at SCOTUSblog here.   The Training Division provides resources on bail and pretrial release here