Ervine Davenport v. Duncan MacLaren, Warden (6th Cir. June 2020)

The Federal Docket

Fifth Amendment/Shackling –

Ervine Davenport filed a habeas petition to vacate his state conviction for first degree murder. He had been visibly shackled at the waist, wrist, and ankles during his trial. His petition was initially denied by the district court, which held that it was error, but harmless error.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that “shackling is inherently prejudicial” and violated clearly established federal law and that the error was not harmless because the evidence of premeditation and deliberation supporting the first degree murder conviction “was not overwhelming.” Since it was not overwhelming, the State did not meet its burden to show the restraints did not have “a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.”

The trial involving competing theories of self-defense and premeditation based on the Davenport allegedly choking the victim while she was acting violent and out of control. The prosecutor had indicated in closing that, while the evidence was sufficient for first-degree murder, it was “at the very least obviously” a second-degree murder and earlier had said the difference between first and second-degree was “the only real issue” at trial.

Judge Readler dissented, objecting that AEDPA deference in this case would have meant requiring a finding that the state court’s “harmless determination itself” was an “unreasonable application of clearly established law.”

Appeal from the Western District of Michigan

Opinion by Stranch, joined by Cole

Dissenting Opinon by Readler

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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