Comm. v. Patterson, 2018 PA Super 24 (Feb. 8, 2018)

This was an appeal out of Westmoreland County.  Patterson was convicted of third-degree murder.  The underlying circumstances were Patterson was a customer of a local tattoo shop; he and the shop owner got into an argument over money in the parking lot, which led to a fight; and the fight resulted in Patterson shooting the shop owner and killing him.  He claimed self-defense at trial, and another firearm was recovered at the shooting scene (being the shop owner’s) to bolster his claim; however, the jury rejected the claim of self-defense and Patterson was convicted.  He was sentenced to 16-to-32 years.

Eleven issues were raised on appeal, but the issue of importance that led to publication of the Superior Court’s opinion was this: did the trial court violate Patterson’s constitutional rights when it permitted the jury to view the scene of the shooting yet Patterson remained shackled and restrained in view of the jury at the scene?  The issue was one of first impression.

Here, the Superior Court held that Patterson’s rights were not violated.  It began by recognizing that the accused has a “rules-based right to attend a jury view of the crime scene.”  Relying on precedents of similar cases from California and Michigan, the Superior Court reasoned that the trial court acted within its discretion to require that Patterson remain shackled and restrained.  The Court wrote:

The trial court stated that the shackling of [Patterson] for the view was necessary ‘not only to ensure the safety of Patterson, the jurors, and the anyone else involved who would be present at the scene, but also in light of the fact that there would be testimony offered outside and Patterson may have had the opportunity to flee if he was not restrained.’

Thus, implicit in the Superior Court’s opinion, where there is “greater danger of escape outside the courtroom” and a need to prevent escape, the trial court will be within its discretion to require that the accused remained shackled while at the view.

Personal Note: An open question remains whether a court would be well within its discretion to require shackling of a defendant who is not charged with criminal homicide.  In Patterson, it was the charge of criminal homicide that made Patterson non-bailable.  Had he just been a defendant facing, say, felony charges, who was being held in custody unable to make bail, would it be permissible to shackle such a defendant at the scene?  Given what the Superior Court cited to as motives of “escape prevention” to justify the trial court’s actions, that may be enough for the trial court to authorize shackling under those circumstances.  That’s for the future, however.