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State of Iowa v. Earl Jamare Griffin

March 27, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EARL JAMARE GRIFFIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Stephen C. Gerard, District Associate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bower, J.

Earl J. Griffin appeals his conviction for the crime of assault on correctional staff causing injury, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3A (2009). REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Earl J. Griffin appeals his conviction for the crime of assault on correctional staff causing injury, an aggravated misdemeanor in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3A (2009). In his appeal, Griffin argues the district court erred in requiring him to wear leg shackles during the trial. Because the district court failed to make specific findings justifying the use of restraints during the trial, we reverse.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Earl J. Griffin was charged with a single count of assault on correctional staff causing injury following an incident at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale, Iowa. The facts of the incident are not in dispute.

On November 15, 2009, Rickey Tremmel, a correctional officer at the Oakdale facility, escorted a nurse so that medications could be distributed to the inmates. Tremmel had earlier in the day reprimanded the inmates on either side of Griffin's cell for being disruptive. Griffin contends he stood up for the inmates and was himself subsequently disciplined. Upon arriving at Griffin's cell, Tremmel observed that Griffin had his hands in his pants. Tremmel instructed Griffin to remove his hands for safety and Griffin complied.

Due to the earlier incidents within the correctional facility, Tremmel opened Griffin's cell door only a short distance as a safety precaution. Having taken and swallowed his medication, Griffin reached through the opening and hit Tremmel in the eye. Griffin was able to escape his cell and continued to punch Tremmel until Tremmel was able to subdue him. Tremmel suffered facial lacerations and other injuries. During the trial Griffin pointed to the prison culture and a need to appear tough among the other inmates as a basis for a necessity defense.

Trial commenced on November 1, 2010. Immediately before jury selection Griffin's trial counsel presented an oral motion to the court objecting to the use of leg chains on his client. Counsel argued that Griffin should not be restrained during trial and stated the chains would be unfairly prejudicial before the jury. Counsel did concede that a "shock belt" might be more appropriate or, in the alternative, in the event Griffin took the stand, he should be seated in the witness chair before the jury entered the courtroom so the jury would not see him walking to the stand in restraints. Counsel then proceeded to argue in favor of an alternative that Griffin be shackled while at counsel table, provided the jury could not see the restraints. Finally, counsel informed the court that Griffin had been seen in restraints by prospective jurors on his way to the courtroom. The State's response to these arguments was that the sheriff's office, as the party physically in charge of Griffin at the time, should be granted deference to determine the conditions of his security.

The court agreed with the State's arguments, stating that he "is in the custody of the sheriff, and is under a commitment to the Department of Corrections, and I think they have the right to enforce security as they see it necessary." The court did express a preference for a shock belt and further noted that it was impossible to keep an in-custody defendant separate from a public space occupied by potential jurors. The court also decided Griffin would be seated at the witness stand before the jury would enter, should he decide to testify, but would remain physically restrained.

Griffin was convicted as charged and sentenced to an indeterminate term not to exceed two years, to be served concurrently with is prior sentence. Griffin appeals.

II. Standard and Scope of Review

Our review is for abuse of discretion. State v. Wilson, 406 N.W.2d 442, 448 (Iowa 1987). "The decision to impose physical restraints upon a defendant during trial lies within the informed discretion of the district court and will not be ...


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