The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.
The Clerk of the Court is hereby ordered to unseal this Court's
Memorandum Order filed on July 17, 2001, denying defendant Tommy Edelin's
Motion to Preclude Stun Belts from Capital Trial.
Upon consideration of the arguments advanced by defendants Tommy
Edelin, Earl Edelin, Shelton Marbury, Henry Johnson, Marwin Mosley, and
Bryan Bostick, in support of defendant Tommy Edelin's Motion to Preclude
Stun Belts from Capital Trial, and by the government in opposition
thereto, the Court orally DENIED defendants' Motion on March 22, 2001.
The Court now issues this Memorandum Opinion to set forth the reasons for
denying the defendants' Motion.
The charges in this case stem from an alleged large drug conspiracy in
the District of Columbia. The participants in the alleged conspiracy
allegedly committed fourteen murders and multiple counts of assault with
intent to murder. The six defendants are charged with conspiracy to
distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more
of cocaine, fifty grams or more of cocaine base, and one kilogram or more
of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; continuing criminal
enterprise, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848 (a) and (b); conspiracy
to participate in a racketeer influenced corrupt organization, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (d); armed robbery, in violation of 22
D.C.Code §§ 2901 & 3202; money laundering, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 1957; and various other violent crimes and drug related
activity. One of the defendants, Tommy Edelin, faces the death penalty.
The government did not to seek the death penalty against the other five
defendants, although they are accused of crimes that have led to death
penalty prosecution. These five defendants face the possibility of life in
prison without parole.
Defendant Tommy Edelin filed a Motion to preclude the use of stun belts
during the trial in this case. In a pretrial hearing on the Motion, each
of the defendants, except defendant Mosley, orally moved to join
defendant Tommy Edelin's Motion.*fn1 The Court granted the defendants'
oral motions to adopt defendant Tommy Edelin's Motion. The defendants
objected to the recommendation of the United States Marshals Service that
they be required to wear a Remote Electronically Activated Controlled
Technology ("REACT") stun belt.
In his Motion to Preclude the Use of Stun Belts, defendant Tommy Edelin
objected to wearing a REACT stun belt on the following grounds: 1) the
device constitutes an unknown health threat to him and perhaps his
counsel if triggered; 2) the device is subject to malfunction and could
injure him; 3) his conduct in court during numerous previous court
appearances does not justify such an extraordinary action; 4) the criteria
for determining when to activate the device are over-broad and vague; 5)
the device is psychologically damaging to him, even if it is not
activated; 7) the device interferes with his ability to assist counsel;
and 8) there has been an appalling error rate in activating the belt in
other cases in which it has been used." See Defendant Tommy Edelin's
Motion to Preclude Stun Belts at 1.
The Court does not find defendant Tommy Edelin's arguments persuasive.
The Court finds the declarations submitted by the government to be
credible, and the declarations are not discredited by the assertions made
by the defendants. Although defendant Tommy Edelin submitted a June 1999
report by Amnesty
International and a 1998 article from the Saint Mary's Law Journal, these
attachments do not counteract the information included in the
declarations submitted by the government.*fn2 The government's
declarations clearly establish that the REACT belts at issue here do not
pose an undue threat to the health of the defendants nor their counsel,
that the belts are not subject to malfunction, and that there has been a
very small number of accidental activations of the belt. See Declaration
of United States Marshal Donald W. Horton, ¶¶ 9-16 (March 20, 2001);
Declaration of Dennis Kaufman, ¶¶ 5-7, ¶ 9 (March 19, 2001). The
overall rate for accidental activations of the REACT belt, when viewed in
comparison with the total number of times the belts have been used on
individuals in police custody is less than 2 thousandths of a percent, or
.00015%. See Declaration of Dennis Kaufman, at ¶ 7. In fact, the
United States Marshals Service has no record of any activation of a stun
belt, accidental or otherwise, while worn by a prisoner or a detainee.
See Declaration of Robert D. Pettit, at ¶ 3. Thus, any concerns the
defendants may have about wearing the stun belts controlled by Deputy
U.S. Marshals should be allayed.
As to the other reasons cited by defendants as grounds for disallowing
the use of the belts, the Court finds that the lack of inappropriate
conduct by the defendants within the courtroom should not be the deciding
factor as to whether a stun belt should be used as a security measure.
The Court also finds that the criteria established by the U.S. Marshals
Service for when a stun belt can be properly activated are not overly
broad nor vague, that the defendants have not shown that the stun belt is
psychologically damaging to them, and that the defendants have not shown
that the belt interferes with the defendants' ability to assist counsel
in their defense.
Several Circuit Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court
have reviewed the issue of what security measures are appropriate when a
defendant is tried before a jury. The Supreme Court held in Illinois v.
Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970), that binding
and gagging an "obstreperous defendant" was ...