7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Case Name: Danny Wilber v. Randall Hepp, Warden
Case No.: 20-2614; 20-2703
Officials: MANION, KANNE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.
Focus: Due Process Violation
A jury convicted Danny Wilber of murder in Wisconsin state court, and he was sentenced to a life term in prison. After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction in state court, Wilber sought relief in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing among other things that he was deprived of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment when he was visibly shackled before the jury during closing arguments. The district court issued a writ of habeas corpus on that claim, concluding that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision sustaining the shackling order amounted to an unreasonable application of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 125 S. Ct. 2007 (2005). Because neither the trial judge nor the state appellate court ever articulated a reason why Wilber had to be visibly restrained in the jury’s presence, we agree with the district court that the shackling decision ran afoul of Deck. And because Wilber was visibly restrained at a key phase of the trial, when the State highlighted evidence that, in the moments leading up to the murder, Wilber’s behavior was “wild,” “crazy,” “possessed,” and “out of control,” we also agree with the district court that Wilber was prejudiced by the shackling error. The restraints would have suggested to the jury that the court itself perceived Wilber to be incapable of self-control and to pose such a danger that he must be manacled in order to protect others in the courtroom, including the jurors. We therefore affirm the district court’s decision to grant a writ of habeas corpus.