The ACLU of Southern California requests that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors call for an immediate and permanent ban on the use of stun belts by county judges or other court personnel as a means of punishing or otherwise restraining non-violent defendants.
Last Thursday, the ACLU sent letters to the Presiding Judges of both the Municipal and Superior Courts of Los Angeles County calling on the courts to ensure that judges or other court personnel will terminate use of these devices to punish or subdue non-threatening defendants.
These letters followed an incident concerning the use of a stun belt to silence a defendant. The ACLU is not here to discuss the specifics of a particular incident or judge's actions. We have joined a national and international coalition of human rights activists who demand that the use of stun belts as punishment be ended, once and for all.
The ACLU of Southern California calls on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to make clear that it strongly supports a ban on this inhumane practice and that the use of electro-shock belts as punishment be forever banned in the Los Angeles County courts.
These belts were originally designed to control physically violent defendants for whom no other means of restraint by law enforcement agents was possible. Their use must be restricted solely to those rare instances when a defendant becomes violent and threatens the physical safety of court personnel and the public, and law enforcement has no other means to restrain the person.
There are other obvious and tested solutions to behavior that is disruptive but not physically threatening. Defendants or others who interrupt court proceedings may be removed from the courtroom and even required to view the proceedings by video.
Under the VIII Amendment to our nation's constitution we are forbidden to inflict `cruel and unusual punishment. . .' Use of the electro-shock belt as punishment for disruptive behavior is not only cruel and unusual but macabre, and coverts our courtrooms into modern day torture chambers. Meting out punishment via the shock belt also constitutes an obvious and egregious violation of a defendant's right to due process.
The ACLU seeks an assurance from the Superior and Municipal Courts that, with the sole exception of controlling a physically violent defendant who poses an imminent and extreme threat to public safety, use of the electro-shock belt will be banned from the courtrooms. We ask the Board of Supervisors to join us in seeking such an assurance from the court. Please be advised that without such representation, the ACLU will have no recourse but to litigate the practice immediately.