Corrections officers provide a necessary service to manage those accused of or convicted of crimes who are in custody. To that end, officers may need to use various forms of restraint. In addition to handcuffs and jail cells, they may use leg irons, restraint chairs, spit hoods, and many other implements. More recently, they have employed the use of stun belts to keep inmates from acting out while in courtrooms.
What Is a Stun Belt?
A stun belt is a type of conducted energy device. It is similar to a Taser, which is used by law enforcement and is available to the public in some places. Some such belts deliver a 50,000 to 70,000 volt shock which can last several seconds, just like a Taser.
Specifically, it is a belt that can be fastened around a person’s waist, leg, or arm. The belt has a battery pack and a control panel. Then, a remote control communicates with the control panel to give the person an electric shock. Additionally, there are models that automatically provide shocks if the person moves.
Use of Stun Belts in Courts
In 1999, Amnesty International released a report in which it expressed concern that stun belts (and other types of electric shock devices) were being used to punish inmates. “Restraints are deliberately imposed as punishment, or used as a routine control measure rather than as an emergency response.”
Yet the use of these devices has continued around the country. Indeed, The New York Times reported on a case in Texas in 2014, where the judge himself told a deputy to deploy electric shocks to a stun belt fixed to a criminal defendant. The judge used the belt as a way to enforce decorum in the courtroom, not because the defendant was particularly dangerous. Later, the defendant’s conviction was reversed.
Such belts have even been used in New York. However, in 2009, New York’s highest court held in People v. Buchanan that a stun belt may not be used without a finding of specific facts justifying the use of such a restraint.
Recent New York Case on Use of Stun Belts
In 2011, Daniel Bradford was convicted of murdering his estranged wife Jennifer in Steuben County, New York. According to Mr. Bradford, the Sheriff’s Department put a stun belt on him prior to going to court for trial, claiming it was their policy. Mr. Bradford also inquired with his attorney why he had to wear the belt, but the attorney never raised the issue to the court. It seems the judge was totally unaware that Mr. Bradford was wearing the belt.
Mr. Bradford filed a Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 motion, claiming his attorney was ineffective for not protesting the use of the belt. Last month, in remanding the case back to the trial court for a hearing, the Court of Appeals noted that “factual issues exist concerning trial counsel’s effectiveness.” Thus it is possible that Mr. Bradford may get a new trial at some point in the future due to his attorney’s alleged ineffectiveness.
- Jacey Fortin, “To Control Inmates, Some Counties Try the Threat of electric Shock,” New York Times (Mar. 12, 2018). Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/us/electric-shock-inmates.html (last accessed July 20, 2023).
- People v. Bradford, 2023 N.Y. Slip. Op. 03187 (2023). Available at: https://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2023/2023_03187.htm (last accessed July 20, 2023).
- Bennett Loudon, “Hearing ordered in murder case after defendant forced to wear stun belt,” The Daily Record (June 28, 2023). Available at: https://nydailyrecord.com/2023/06/28/hearing-ordered-in-murder-case-2/ (last accessed July 20, 2023)
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