After respondent and others were indicted for armed robbery in
Rhode Island Superior Court, they were held without bail. When the
trial was about to begin, four uniformed state troopers were
sitting in the front row of the spectators' section of the
courtroom to supplement the customary security force which was
overextended at the time. Respondent's counsel objected to the
troopers' presence, but this objection was overruled by the trial
justice, primarily on the basis of voir dire
during the selection of the jury indicating that the troopers'
presence would not affect the defendants' ability to receive a fair
trial. Respondent was convicted, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court
affirmed. Respondent then brought a habeas corpus proceeding in
Federal District Court, which also rejected his objections to the
troopers' presence. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the
trial justice had failed to consider whether the particular
circumstances of respondent's trial had called for the troopers'
presence, and that the justice had improperly relied on the jurors'
responses to rebut any suggestion of prejudice
The troopers' presence at respondent's trial was
not so inherently prejudicial that he was thereby denied his
constitutional right to a fair trial. Pp. 475 U. S.
(a) While an accused is entitled to have his guilt or innocence
determined solely on the basis of evidence introduced at trial,
this does not mean that every practice tending to single out an
accused from everyone else in the courtroom must be struck down.
Pp. 475 U. S.
(b) The conspicuous, or at least noticeable, presence of guards
in a courtroom during trial is not the sort of inherently
prejudicial practice that should be permitted only where justified
by an essential state interest. Such presence need not be
interpreted as a sign that the defendant is particularly dangerous
or culpable. Jurors may just as easily believe that the guards are
there to prevent outside disruptions or eruptions of violence in
the courtroom. Reason, principle, and human experience counsel
against a presumption that any use of identifiable guards in a
courtroom is inherently prejudicial. In view of the variety of
Page 475 U. S. 561
in which such guards can be deployed, a case-by-case approach is
more appropriate. Pp. 475 U. S.
(c) Whenever a courtroom arrangement is challenged as inherently
prejudicial, the question is not whether the jurors articulated a
consciousness of some prejudicial effect, but rather whether there
was an unacceptable risk of prejudice. In this case, there is no
justification for finding such an unacceptable risk based on the
troopers' presence. Even if the jurors had been aware that the
deployment of troopers was not common practice, there is no reason
to believe that the troopers' presence tended to brand respondent
with guilt. Their presence was unlikely to have been taken as a
sign of anything other than a normal official concern for safety
and order. Moreover, even if a slight degree of prejudice could be
attributed to the troopers' presence, sufficient cause for their
presence could be found in the State's need to maintain custody
over defendants who had been denied bail. The troopers' presence
was intimately related to the State's legitimate interest in
maintaining such custody, and thus did not offend the Equal
Protection Clause by arbitrarily discriminating against those
unable to post bail or to whom bail has been denied. Pp.
475 U. S.
(d) Since this case involves a federal court's review of a
constitutional challenge to a state court proceeding, the federal
court's task is not to determine whether it might have been
feasible for the State to have employed less conspicuous security
measures in the courtroom, but only whether what the jurors saw was
so inherently prejudicial as to pose an unacceptable threat to the
defendants' right to a fair trial. Respondent has failed to show
the existence of such inherent prejudice, and has not shown actual
prejudice. P. 475 U. S.
749 F.2d 961, reversed.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post,
475 U. S.
Page 475 U. S. 562
JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented in this case is whether a criminal
defendant was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial when,
at his trial with five codefendants, the customary courtroom
security force was supplemented by four uniformed state troopers
sitting in the first row of the spectators' section.
On August 14, 1975, nine masked men entered the Bonded Vault Co.
in Providence, Rhode Island, robbed several employees at gunpoint,
broke into most of the safe-deposit boxes in the vault, and escaped
with approximately $4 million in cash and valuables. In January,
1976, respondent and eight others were indicted in Providence
County Superior Court for that crime. After a hearing in Superior
Court, respondent and five of his alleged accomplices were ordered
held without bail in the custody of the Warden of the State's Adult
Correctional Institution. [Footnote
In April, 1976, respondent and his five codefendants were
brought to trial in Superior Court before Associate Justice Anthony
A. Giannini. Upon entering the courtroom, respondent's counsel
noted the presence of four uniformed state troopers, sitting in the
first row of the spectators' section; the officers were not far
behind, but were separated by the "bar" from, the seats assigned to
the defendants for the duration of the trial. [Footnote 2
] Counsel immediately complained to
Page 475 U. S. 563
"the defendants would object to uniformed police, uniformed
state police, sitting in the court as a display of 'strength' in
the presence of the jury."
Tr. 48-49. While counsel observed that he would have no
objection to the use of any number of plainclothed security
personnel, he argued that the presence of uniformed officers would
suggest to the jury that defendants were of "bad character."
at 48. Justice Giannini replied that the troopers were
present because the Committing Squad, which usually supplied
courtroom security personnel in such cases, was overextended at
that time. Noting that he had not personally requested the
assistance of the troopers, the judge agreed to see whether they
might be made to wear civilian clothes for their future appearances
in the courtroom.
The following week, Justice Giannini announced that he had
"received a report that it is not practical, both from an
organization point of view and also from a contractual point of
view with the union representing the state troopers,"
for the four troopers to dress in civilian clothes. Id.
at 71. In the face of these constraints and in view of the need for
adequate security, the justice ruled that the troopers could remain
in the courtroom in full uniform. He noted that, because the
troopers would be seated behind the bar, defendants would in no way
be prejudiced. The next day, denying defendants' motion for
reconsideration, Justice Giannini asserted that, though he himself
had not made the decision to deploy the troopers, he thought
defendants "overly sensitive" to the danger of prejudice.
at 84. At any rate, the justice went on, an
examination of prospective jurors would reveal whether they were
likely to draw adverse inference from the troopers' presence, and
would thereby guarantee the rights of the defendants. Jury
In the meantime, respondent sought interlocutory review in the
Rhode Island Supreme Court of Justice Giannini's ruling. After
initially declining review, the Supreme Court read a transcript of
the ruling and granted respondent's petition.
Page 475 U. S. 564
"[t]he presence of armed, uniformed police officers acting as a
security force in criminal courtrooms in this jurisdiction is a
departure from the practice usually found in the trial courts of
the court concluded:
"The trial justice may not delegate responsibility that is his
to the so-called security committee or its advisors. The presence
of the State Police is a decision that must be resolved solely by
the trial justice after consideration of all relevant factors."
State v. Byrnes,
116 R.I. 925, 927, 367 A.2d
Upon the State's request, Justice Giannini conducted a hearing
at which the first witness was Captain Robert Melucci, the
principal officer of the Committing Squad, the group charged with
maintaining courtroom security during the trials of defendants in
pretrial detention. [Footnote
] He testified that, because of other commitments in the
courthouse, the force of 12 officers available for deployment in
the building was insufficient to maintain the preferred ratio of 2
officers to every defendant in this six-defendant trial. Since any
ratio approaching one-to-one posed a "security risk," Tr. 120, and
he could spare only six officers for respondent's trial, Captain
Melucci had contacted the Superior Court's presiding justice and
informed him of the need for additional security personnel. As a
result, Captain Melucci testified, additional help had been sought
from the State Police.
The next witness, Major Lionel Benjamin, Executive Officer of
the Rhode Island State Police, explained that any time his force
was charged with transporting prisoners from the Adult Correctional
Institution to the courthouse and maintaining custody during trial,
he was contractually obligated to use officers from the uniformed
division. That same contract with the Fraternal Order of Police,
according to Major Benjamin, precluded him from asking members of
Page 475 U. S. 565
division to perform their duties in civilian clothing. The Major
went on to note that, even were there no contractual bar, the
force's plainclothes detective division lacked the personnel to
provide security for the duration of respondent's trial. He
concluded by saying that, if the court required his troopers to
wear civilian clothes, he would withdraw them. Id.
After completing jury selection, Justice Giannini gave his final
ruling on respondent's motion. He noted that
"if these defendants were admitted to bail, there would be no
state policemen and there would be no committing squad officers in
at 229. But bail having been denied, it became the
responsibility of the Warden and the Committing Squad to maintain
custody of the detainees. The justice found that, because the
Committing Squad lacked the resources, the necessary level of
security could be ensured only with the help of the uniformed
troopers. Having held the presence of the troopers "justified by
the evidence," Justice Giannini considered whether the presence of
the troopers had prejudiced the defendants. He observed that, of
the 54 prospective jurors who had not been struck before they were
asked about the troopers, 51 had responded that the troopers'
presence "created no inference of guilt with regard to the
defendants in their mind"; the remaining 3 had not precisely
addressed the question. Id.
at 230-231. When asked to
speculate why the troopers were present, many had given a vague
response as to the need for security. In view of the voir
responses, the justice concluded that the presence of the
troopers would not affect defendants' ability to receive a fair
The trial lasted more than two months, and ended with verdicts
acquitting three defendants and convicting respondent and two
others. On appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the
convictions. State v. Byrnes, 433
(1981). With respect to respondent's objection to the
troopers, the court concluded:
Page 475 U. S. 566
"[T]he trial justice gave a reasoned and careful consideration
of the issues raised by the presence of the uniformed troopers and,
after consideration of all relevant factors, found that the
presence of the troopers in no way prejudiced defendants. We have
read the record, and we find no reason whatsoever to fault his
Respondent then brought this habeas proceeding in Federal
District Court. After certain procedural complications not relevant
here, the District Court for the District of Rhode Island
entertained the petition and rejected all the claims therein. With
respect to respondent's objection to the presence of the troopers
throughout the trial, the court held:
"Less totalitarian alternatives appear to have been explored and
rejected on rational grounds. The security measures approved here,
extreme though they might have been, did not, under the totality of
the circumstances, deny due process or equal protection to the
, 998 (1984).
The Court of Appeals, however, reversed this dismissal. 749 F.2d
961 (CA1 1984). Seizing upon the Rhode Island Supreme Court's
observation that the presence of uniformed and armed troopers had
been an "extraordinary" event, the Court of Appeals concluded that
Justice Giannini had failed to consider whether the particular
circumstances of respondent's trial had called for such
"Rather, with no threats shown to safety, he balanced nothing,
but simply indicated a fear that, since the defendants had not been
bailed, they might flee from the courtroom. There was no evidence
even suggesting any unusual likelihood of this; nor had anything
whatever made 'manifest' the 'necessity for heightened security.'
As for the exploration of less 'totalitarian alternatives,' the
exploration was limited, notwithstanding defendants' suggestions,
to inquiring whether regular commitment officers were available
without inconveniencing the Presiding
Page 475 U. S. 567
Justice, and whether the union contract permitted the state
police to appear out of uniform and unarmed."
at 964. Dismissing the trial judge's reliance on
jurors' voir dire
responses to rebut any suggestion of
prejudice to respondent, the Court of Appeals asserted:
"Even if all jurors had indicated an unreserved opinion that the
troopers' presence would not affect them, such expression, on a
case as extreme as this, where there was no need to rely on it, is
at 965. The court ordered that the writ of habeas
corpus be granted.
We granted certiorari, 472 U.S. 1026 (1985), and now
Central to the right to a fair trial, guaranteed by the Sixth
and Fourteenth Amendments, is the principle that
"one accused of a crime is entitled to have his guilt or
innocence determined solely on the basis of the evidence introduced
at trial, and not on grounds of official suspicion, indictment,
continued custody, or other circumstances not adduced as proof at
Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U. S. 478
436 U. S. 485
(1978). This does not mean, however, that every practice tending to
single out the accused from everyone else in the courtroom must be
struck down. Recognizing that jurors are quite aware that the
defendant appearing before them did not arrive there by choice or
happenstance, we have never tried, and could never hope, to
eliminate from trial procedures every reminder that the State has
chosen to marshal its resources against a defendant to punish him
for allegedly criminal conduct. To guarantee a defendant's due
process rights under ordinary circumstances, our legal system has
instead placed primary reliance on the adversary system and the
presumption of innocence. When defense counsel vigorously
represents his client's interests and the trial judge
Page 475 U. S. 568
assiduously works to impress jurors with the need to presume the
defendant's innocence, we have trusted that a fair result can be
Our faith in the adversary system and in jurors' capacity to
adhere to the trial judge's instructions has never been absolute,
however. We have recognized that certain practices pose such a
threat to the "fairness of the factfinding process" that they must
be subjected to "close judicial scrutiny." Estelle v.
Williams, 425 U. S. 501
425 U. S.
-504 (1976). Thus, in Estelle v. Williams,
we noted that, where a defendant is forced to wear prison clothes
when appearing before the jury, "the constant reminder of the
accused's condition implicit in such distinctive, identifiable
attire may affect a juror's judgment." Id.
at 425 U. S.
-505. Since no "essential state policy" is served by
compelling a defendant to dress in this manner, id.
425 U. S. 505
this Court went no further and concluded that the practice is
unconstitutional. This close scrutiny of inherently prejudicial
practices has not always been fatal, however. In Illinois v.
Allen, 397 U. S. 337
(1970), the Court emphasized that a defendant may be prejudiced if
he appears before the jury bound and gagged.
"Not only is it possible that the sight of shackles and gags
might have a significant effect on the jury's feelings about the
defendant, but the use of this technique is itself something of an
affront to the very dignity and decorum of judicial proceedings
that the judge is seeking to uphold."
at 397 U. S. 344
Yet the Court nonetheless observed that, in certain extreme
situations, "binding and gagging might possibly be the fairest and
most reasonable way to handle" a particularly obstreperous and
disruptive defendant. Ibid.
The first issue to be considered here is thus whether the
conspicuous, or at least noticeable, deployment of security
personnel in a courtroom during trial is the sort of inherently
prejudicial practice that, like shackling, should be permitted
Page 475 U. S. 569
only where justified by an essential state interest specific to
each trial. We do not believe that it is.
The chief feature that distinguishes the use of identifiable
security officers from courtroom practices we might find inherently
prejudicial is the wider range of inferences that a juror might
reasonably draw from the officers' presence. While shackling and
prison clothes are unmistakable indications of the need to separate
a defendant from the community at large, the presence of guards at
a defendant's trial need not be interpreted as a sign that he is
particularly dangerous or culpable. Jurors may just as easily
believe that the officers are there to guard against disruptions
emanating from outside the courtroom, or to ensure that tense
courtroom exchanges do not erupt into violence. Indeed, it is
entirely possible that jurors will not infer anything at all from
the presence of the guards. If they are placed at some distance
from the accused, security officers may well be perceived more as
elements of an impressive drama than as reminders of the
defendant's special status. Our society has become inured to the
presence of armed guards in most public places; they are doubtless
taken for granted so long as their numbers or weaponry do not
suggest particular official concern or alarm. See Hardee v.
581 F.2d 330, 332 (CA2 1978).
To be sure, it is possible that the sight of a security force
within the courtroom might, under certain conditions, "create the
impression in the minds of the jury that the defendant is dangerous
or untrustworthy." Kennedy v. Cardwell,
487 F.2d 101, 108
(CA6 1973), cert. denied,
416 U.S. 959 (1974). However,
"reason, principle, and common human experience," Williams,
at 425 U. S. 504
counsel against a presumption that any use of identifiable security
guards in the courtroom is inherently prejudicial. In view of the
variety of ways in which such guards can be deployed, we believe
that a case-by-case approach is more appropriate.
Page 475 U. S. 570
The courtroom security force in this case consisted of four
uniformed state troopers, two Deputy Sheriffs, and six Committing
Squad officers. Though respondent does not concede that the
deployment of the uniformed Committing Squad officers was proper,
his focus at every stage of his habeas proceedings has been
exclusively on the prejudice he attributes to the four state
troopers. The only question we need answer is thus whether the
presence of these four uniformed and armed officers was so
inherently prejudicial that respondent was thereby denied his
constitutional right to a fair trial.
The Court of Appeals was correct to find that Justice Giannini's
assessment of jurors' states of mind cannot be dispositive here.
"a procedure employed by the State involves such a probability
that prejudice will result that it is deemed inherently lacking in
Estes v. Texas, 381 U. S. 532
381 U. S.
-543 (1965), little stock need be placed in jurors'
claims to the contrary. See Sheppard v. Maxwell,
384 U. S. 333
384 U. S.
-352 (1966); Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.
, 366 U. S. 728
(1961). Even though a practice may be inherently prejudicial,
jurors will not necessarily be fully conscious of the effect it
will have on their attitude toward the accused. This will be
especially true when jurors are questioned at the very beginning of
proceedings; at that point, they can only speculate on how they
will feel after being exposed to a practice daily over the course
of a long trial. Whenever a courtroom arrangement is challenged as
inherently prejudicial, therefore, the question must be not whether
jurors actually articulated a consciousness of some prejudicial
effect, but rather whether "an unacceptable risk is presented of
impermissible factors coming into play," Williams,
U.S. at 425 U. S.
We do not minimize the threat that a roomful of uniformed and
armed policemen might pose to a defendant's chances of
Page 475 U. S. 571
receiving a fair trial. See
ABA Standards for Criminal
Justice 15-3.1(c) (2d ed.1980). But we simply cannot find an
unacceptable risk of prejudice in the spectacle of four such
officers quietly sitting in the first row of a courtroom's
spectator section. [Footnote 4
Even had the jurors been aware that the deployment of troopers was
not common practice in Rhode Island, we cannot believe that the use
of the the four troopers tended to brand respondent in their eyes
"with an unmistakable mark of guilt." Williams, supra,
425 U. S. 518
(BRENNAN, J., dissenting). Cf. Dorman v. United Stats,
U.S.App.D.C. 313, 327, 435 F.2d 385, 397 (1970) (greater danger of
prejudice if jury aware that arrangements are extraordinary). Four
troopers are unlikely to have been taken as a sign of anything
other than a normal official concern for the safety and order of
the proceedings. Indeed, any juror who for some other reason
believed defendants particularly dangerous might well have wondered
why there were only four armed troopers for the six defendants.
We note, moreover, that, even were we able to discern a slight
degree of prejudice attributable to the troopers' presence at
respondent's trial, sufficient cause for this level of security
could be found in the State's need to maintain custody over
defendants who had been denied bail after an individualized
determination that their presence at trial could not otherwise be
ensured. Unlike a policy requiring detained defendants to wear
prison garb, the deployment of troopers
Page 475 U. S. 572
was intimately related to the State's legitimate interest in
maintaining custody during the proceedings, and thus did not offend
the Equal Protection Clause by arbitrarily discriminating against
those unable to post bail or to whom bail had been denied. See
at 425 U. S.
The Court of Appeals rejected as wholly inadequate the reasons
advanced by state authorities and accepted by Justice Giannini to
explain why the four uniformed troopers had to be present at
respondent's trial. However, our task here is not to determine
whether it might have been feasible for the State to have employed
less conspicuous security measures in the courtroom. While, in our
supervisory capacity, we might express a preference that officers
providing courtroom security in federal courts not be easily
identifiable by jurors as guards, [Footnote 5
] we are much more constrained when reviewing a
constitutional challenge to a state court proceeding. All a federal
court may do in such a situation is look at the scene presented to
jurors and determine whether what they saw was so inherently
prejudicial as to pose an unacceptable threat to defendant's right
to a fair trial; if the challenged practice is not found inherently
prejudicial, and if the defendant fails to show actual prejudice,
the inquiry is over. Respondent has failed to carry his burden
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
Of the remaining three defendants, two were fugitives at the
time of respondent's trial, and the third appeared at that
proceeding as a witness for the State.
Although the record could have been clearer on this point, all
the colloquies in the record corroborate the statement, made by
respondent's counsel later in pretrial proceedings, that
"sitting behind the defendants, taking the first row, vacating
the first row where the spectators sit, are four uniformed state
police guards, armed. . . ."
Tr. 80; see id.
at 71-72. The troopers appear to have
maintained this position throughout the course of the trial,
although at times there might have been only three of them in the
courtroom. See, e.g., id.
at 109, 146.
The name of the Committing Squad has been changed to "Rhode
Island state marshals." 1976 R.I.Pub.Laws, ch. 259, § 1 (codified
at R.I.Gen.Laws § 42-56-3) (1984 reenactment).
The only social science study to which respondent has pointed us
addresses the effects of prison clothes and courtroom guards upon
jury verdicts. Its tentative conclusion is that defendants clad in
prison garb or accompanied by guards are more likely to be found
guilty than unsupervised defendants wearing their own clothes.
However, the study also found that favored treatment was accorded
defendants who had both
clothing. Fontaine & Kiger, The Effects of Defendant Dress and
Supervision on Judgments of Simulated Jurors: An Exploratory Study,
2 Law and Human Behavior 63, 69-70 (1978). In view of these curious
and concededly tentative results, we will, at least for now, rely
on our own experience and common sense.
See, e.g., United States v. Jackson,
549 F.2d 517,
526-527 (CA8), cert. denied sub nom. Muhammed v. United
430 U.S. 985 (1977); United States v. Clardy,
540 F.2d 439, 442-443 (CA9), cert. denied,
429 U.S. 963
(1976); Kennedy v. Cardwell,
487 F.2d 101, 109 (CA6 1973),
416 U.S. 959 (1974). See also
Dorsen & L. Friedman, Disorder in the Court 249 (1973).
CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring.
I write only to explain my reading of the Court's statement that
"in our supervisory capacity, we might
Page 475 U. S. 573
that officers providing courtroom security in federal courts not
be easily identifiable by jurors as guards. . . ." Ante
475 U. S. 572
(emphasis added). In joining the opinion, I interpret the Court's
carefully qualified statement in this case -- a state case -- as
containing no suggestion that federal officers providing security
must doff their uniforms before entering federal courtrooms, and
certainly none of the three cases the Court cites, ante
475 U. S. 572
n. 5, would require any such arbitrary action. Moreover, the issue
of what kind of security arrangements some might "prefer" is, of
course, quite distinct from issues such as whether a federal
defendant would become entitled to a new trial because of an
alleged prejudicial effect of the security measures used at his
trial. On this understanding, I join the Court's opinion.