In State v. Caver, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided a defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated when the court refused to allow him to wear jail clothing at trial. It does not prejudice a defendant to wear civilian clothes.
Defendant Terry Caver was arrested and charged for Possession of Methamphetamine. Caver remained in custody when his trial began two months after his arrest. At the start of trial, he asked the trial court for permission to wear his jail clothes in front of the jury. He explained that the clothes “represent that I’m in here, that I’m not on the street. It represents what’s really going on in my life. I don’t want these people thinking that I’m on the streets when I’m not on the streets.”
The trial court denied Caver’s request, stating that “it causes much mischief if the defendant is clothed in regular jail garb.” The court explained to Caver that wearing jail clothes would cause the jury to speculate about why he was in jail and whether he posed a danger to them. The jury found him guilty.
He appealed on numerous grounds to include arguments that the trial court violated his due process rights by not allowing him to wear jail clothes at trial.
The court reasoned that although a defendant has the right not to appear in jail or prison clothing pursuant to Estelle v. Williams, these rights do not include a broad freedom for the defendant to express himself through his dress.
“Compelling Caver to wear civilian clothes did not erode the “physical indicia of his innocence,” as requiring him to wear jail clothes or shackles would. It did the opposite by making him appear as any member of the public. Similarly, civilian clothes did not single Caver out “as a particularly dangerous or guilty person.” And civilian clothes did not offend the dignity of the judicial process or restrict Caver’s ability to assist counsel and testify.”
Furthermore, although some Defendants sometimes choose to wear jail clothes as a trial tactic, it does not imply that defendants have a right to pursue this trial tactic. Consequently, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s decision was not inherently prejudicial and that the trial court did not abuse discretion.
My opinion? Jail clothes make people look guilty. Period. That said, most defendants want to wear civilian clothing at trial. Looking “normal” – or at least not incarcerated – tells the jury the defendant might not be guilty of the charges.
Here, Mr. Caver wanted to wear his jail clothes at trial. Interesting. Was this a trial tactic? Who knows. I cannot speculate anything beyond this plain fact because I am not Mr. Carver’s attorney. However, as the court noted, ” . . . although some Defendants sometimes choose to wear jail clothes as a trial tactic, it does not imply that defendants have a right to pursue this trial tactic.”