Cristian Fernandez breaks the shackles
Good news is something that 13 year old Cristian Fernandez has rarely received since his arrest in April of 2011. Today, that all changed.
Judge Mallory Cooper granted a motion filed on Cristian’s behalf by his defense team, led by Hank Coxe which took over the case from Matt Shirk on February 1.
During his tenure as counsel, Shirk had seemingly not even considered the shackling to be a violation of Cristian’s rights, much less bother to file a motion with the court, as Coxe and his team did within the first week of having taking over the case.
Although the motion filed read, in part “the trial court has full discretion over security procedures” Judge Cooper’s decision stated that “It is abundantly clear that the presence of multiple law enforcement officers in the courtroom is more than sufficient to ensure the safety and security of Cristian and others” adding that Cristian posed no risk to the court unrestrained.
Further, the motion states “This court finds the defendant does not have a history of escape and has not created any disturbances or posed a potential threat to anyone in the courtroom during the pendency of his cases. As a result, it is unnecessary to physically restrain the defendant while he is present in the courtroom.”
The State’s response was somewhat guarded, with Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel saying “I think Judge Cooper has always handled Mr. Fernandez’s case with the utmost discretion” adding that there was no objection to the decision from the State Attorney’s Office.
Whilst there was no mention made of the public pressure applied to the court by supporters of Cristian, they will doubtless be overjoyed by the news. A Facebook event had been created by advocate Melissa Higgins, whereby she asked supporters to email “State Attorney Angela Corey, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, Judge Mallory Cooper, and Governor Rick Scott to demand that they stop the indiscriminate shackling of 13 year old Cristian Fernandez”. All four were inundated with correspondence from supporters around the world.
Speaking today, Ms. Higgins told this author “I think that it is a really positive sign that Judge Mallory Cooper recognized the profoundly prejudicial impact that shackling Cristian would have at his upcoming criminal trial. Today’s news suggests that some things are finally beginning to look up in a case that has been both tragic and bleak from a number of perspectives from the very beginning. This was a step forward for Jacksonville today, and for the civil and human rights of juveniles across America.”
The decision by Judge Cooper should now be seen as a precedent for all other cases of juveniles being shackled for court appearances, effectively closing the loophole in the Florida Supreme Court’s amendment to Rule 8.100 of the Florida Statute.
California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont no longer shackle juvenile defendants as a result of State Supreme Court rulings or legislative action, yet many states still employ the practice.
A petition has been created to address this issue, so that others may be afforded the same humane treatment as Cristian was today.
Cristian’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 7.