429 U.S. 900 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

KAREN v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA. , 429 U.S. 900 (1976)

429 U.S. 900

No. 75-6494

Supreme Court of the United States

October 18, 1976

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeal of California for the Second Appellate District.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL, with whom Mr. Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

At the beginning of his trial for manslaughter, petitioner, who acted as his own counsel throughout the trial, asked the judge to provide him with civilian clothes. He represented that he had been in jail for five years and had no suitable civilian clothing. Although there is some suggestion that petitioner might have been able to obtain suitable clothes, 1 the trial court did not reject his request for that reason. [Footnote 2] Rather, it held that petitioner's appearance before the jury in clothes labeled "L. A. CO. JAIL" was "proper." Petitioner objected.

Page 429 U.S. 900 , 901

Only five months ago, this Court unanimously recognized that an accused's appearance before a jury in identifiable jail clothes could deprive him of his fundamental right to a fair trial by undermining the presumption of innocence:

    "(T)he constant reminder of the accused's condition implicit in such distinctive, identifiable attire may affect a juror's judgment. The defendant's clothing is so likely to be a continuing influence throughout the trial that, not unlike placing a jury in the custody of deputy sheriffs who were also witnesses for the prosecution, an unacceptable risk is presented of impermissible factors coming into play." Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 504-505 (1976).

Under Estelle, the trial court's ruling that clean jail clothes are " proper" attire for trial is clearly wrong.

That petitioner asked that the State supply him with clothes, rather than that he be allowed to wear clothes of his own, cannot justify the trial court's ruling. In a system aspiring toward the ideal of equal justice under law, indigence cannot be allowed to deprive an accused of that presumption of innocence which "lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law." Id., at 503, quoting Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 ( 1895). "There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has." Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 19 (1956).

The California Court of Appeal correctly assumed that the trial court's ruling was erroneous. It held, however, that the error was " harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967). In essence, the appellate court reasoned that petitioner was not harmed by his appearance in jail clothing because he was also deprived of the presumption of innocence by other actions taken by the trial court. Specifically, the Court of Appeal recognized that the California procedure of permitting a manslaughter [429 U.S. 900 , 902]

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