That view is plainly wrong, wrote Judge Keasler in the majority opinion (pdf), as "courts have uniformly imposed an express prohibition on routine shackling, as a defendant should only be shackled 'as a last resort.'" He concluded that the "trial judge erred in ordering Bell shackled without finding a particularized reason for such action apart from a general concern for courtroom security and the prevention of escape."
As is so often the case, though, when Texas courts flagrantly violate defendants' rights, the CCA found the error harmless because there was no evidence that the jury could see the shackles and chains binding the defendant's legs and hands to the courtroom table. Judge Blake ordered defense counsel to stack briefcases beside the table to block jurors' view of Bell's shackled legs and suggested the problem would be solved if "the defendant will just be mindful about movement of his legs during trial." For eight members of the CCA, that was sufficient.
Keasler granted that:
The judge's statement that '[e]verybody who is in custody has the same necessity of restraint' evinces, at best, a generalized concern for courtroom security and, at worst, a propensity to shackle defendants in custody during trial as a matter of course. Neither suffices: the former is an insufficient reason; the latter a distasteful practice '[reminiscent] of an era when the accused was brought from prison to the courtroom in chains, unkempt and wearing (at best) prison attire, following which he was exposed to a jury in the worst possible light.' Under these circumstances, it was clearly error to order Bell shackled during trial.But he and seven other CCA judges chose not to apply the standard used by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court in such cases, instead relying on their own Texas rulings that predate the relevant federal precedents.
Judge Meyers dissented (pdf), declaring "I disagree that this error was harmless. Unlawful and uncalled for shackling has a substantial effect on the jury's view of the defendant. The fact that a defendant is shackled without cause gives the jury the perception that he is a much more dangerous criminal and may prevent him from receiving a fair trial." Because the State could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shackling did not contribute to the verdict - the standard under the US Supreme Court's ruling in Deck v. Missouri - he "would hold that the Appellant was harmed by the trial judge's error."
Two issues jump out at Grits on this one: First, who is surprised that the CCA chose to ignore federal precedents in order to sustain Bell's drug conviction? I swear, if this court were a band they'd be named the "Harmless Errors": Those must be their favorite two words (besides, perhaps, "writ denied").
More surprising is that in the 21st century a Texas judge (wrongly) believes it's okay to routinely shackle drug defendants during trial, as Judge Blake apparently would have it. That's a disgraceful stance, the shame of which is not mitigated in the least by the high court's refusal to hold Judge Blake accountable.