Witness’ Shackles Prejudiced Jury

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

The Star-Ledger, June 26, 2003

Judge: Witness' shackles unfairly prejudiced jury

Author:KATHY BARRETT CARTER

A state appeals court yesterday threw out the indictment of a Red Bank man
charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend, saying he should not have
been forced to testify before the grand jury in leg shackles and
handcuffs.

Citing a long line of court cases that say witnesses should not be
shackled because it can hurt their credibility, the court said shackles
should only be used when there is a security risk.

In this case, the defense lawyer representing Alex Grant, 35, reached an
agreement with prosecutors for Grant to testify before a grand jury in
civilian clothes without handcuffs or shackles.

Sheriff's officers, however, refused to honor that agreement even though
Grant had never been charged with a prior crime and had not been a
disciplinary problem in jail. Grand juries decide whether there is
sufficient evidence to indict someone accused of a crime.

Grant wanted to testify because he maintained he killed Yvette Bacon, his
34-year-old live-in girlfriend, in self-defense. Grant says that on Dec.
15, 2001, he came home and caught his girlfriend using drugs in front of
her son. He claims she pulled a knife on him when he threatened to call
the state child protection agency. During the scuffle, Bacon was stabbed
11 times and Grant was stabbed five times.

"Under the unique circumstance presented here, defendant was deprived of a
significant right . . . to have the grand jury assess his viable
self-defense claim through a neutral prism, rather than one through which
his credibility was distorted by restraints which could only impact
negatively on his credibility . . . ," the court said.

"This really strikes a blow for fundamental fairness in grand jury
proceedings and, certainly, for Mr. Grant personally," said Leslie B.
Posnock, Grant's attorney.

First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Robert A. Honecker Jr. said a
decision has not yet been made on whether to appeal the case. Whatever
happens with the appeal, he said he expects the county will present the
case to a second grand jury.
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