Shackled defendant to get new trial

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ROSEBURG, Ore. — A decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals to overturn a Roseburg woman's drunken driving conviction may affect whether jail inmates headed for trial in Oregon are fitted with restraints.

Sherie Wall never appeared before a jury, but in 2010 pretrial hearings in Douglas County Circuit, she was fitted with leg restraints hidden beneath pants or a dress. Those restraints, the Court of Appeals ruled, interfered with her right to stand trial with the dignity of a person presumed innocent.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously last week that Wall's leg restraints, though hidden by clothing, would have compromised a fair trial.

"Although a sheriff's deputy or a prosecutor may provide helpful and necessary information in order to assist in the assessment of the risk posed by an unrestrained defendant, the trial court may not simply accept the conclusions of others; it must make an independent determination that restraint is justified," Chief Judge David Brewer wrote in an 11-page decision.

Trial court judge Frances Burge didn't find that Wall was either an immediate threat to escape or a risk to endanger or disrupt the court, which are two prerequisites the state Court of Appeals set for restraining a defendant during trial. Instead, Burge accepted testimony from a Douglas County sheriff's deputy who said Wall was a "medium-risk inmate."

The deputy did not know why she received that classification. Wall had 13 prior felony convictions.

Wall sought to have the leg restraint removed, but Burge denied the motion. Wall then entered a conditional guilty plea to drunken driving and recklessly endangering another person, which allowed her to pursue an appeal.

Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg told the newspaper that prosecutors have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. If she is retried, Wall will be allowed to withdraw her guilty plea and seek a jury trial.