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Hearing ordered in murder case after defendant forced to wear stun belt

By: Bennett Loudon//June 28, 2023

Hearing ordered in murder case after defendant forced to wear stun belt

By: Bennett Loudon//June 28, 2023//

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In a split decision, the New York State Court of Appeals has sent a case back to the lower court for a hearing on a defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim after he was required to wear a stun belt during his murder trial.

In 2011, defendant Daniel Bradford was convicted of second-degree murder, multiple counts of criminal contempt, and offering a false instrument for filing. He was sentenced to 23 years to life in state prison.

In 2020, Bradford filed a pro se motion to vacate the convictions, arguing that he was improperly forced to wear a stun belt throughout his trial.

Bradford claimed that, on the morning his trial started, sheriff’s deputies showed him a stun belt and explained that it would deliver an electric shock.

They activated the belt so Bradford could see it sparking. They gave him a form explaining the function of the belt and told him he was required to sign it. Bradford signed it and the belt was put on.

Bradford asked his attorney why he was required to wear the belt and the attorney replied that it was the Sheriff’s policy and there was nothing he could do about it.

The judge and the prosecution were not aware that Bradford was required to wear the stun belt during the trial.

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that “factual issues exist concerning trial counsel’s effectiveness.”

The case was sent back to County Court to determine if Bradford’s attorney had a legitimate explanation for not objecting to the stun belt.

“There has been no hearing concerning whether defendant voiced his concerns about wearing the stun belt to his trial attorney as he contends,” the court wrote.

The court voted 4-1 with Judge Jenny Rivera dissenting and voting to reverse the conviction and order a new trial.

In her dissent, Rivera noted that that belt can deliver a 50,000- to 70,000-volt surge, “causing immediate loss of muscular control and incapacitation.”

“More than 20 years ago, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for abolition of the device, suggesting that its use may violate the international treaty against torture,” she wrote.

“This Court has recognized that stun belts carry a ‘known potential for extremely painful and humiliating physical effects’ and has set procedural safeguards around their use,” Rivera wrote.

“Those procedural safeguards were not followed here when the Sheriff’s Department usurped the trial court’s authority to determine the necessity of a stun belt and mandated defendant wear the physical restraint,” Rivera wrote.

“Counsel cannot refuse to present their client’s objection to the court. Nor may counsel waive this fundamental right against their client’s wish. That decision belongs to the only person who bears the physical consequences and mental anguish of wearing a stun belt — the defendant,” Rivera wrote.

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