How to dress for success in a Delaware court … or not

GEORGETOWN — Incarcerated defendants are entitled to wear civilian clothes during trials, and judges should question and note why if they don’t, according to a Delaware Supreme Court opinion last week.

The issue surfaced during an appeal of a 2013 DUI conviction, in which Gerald Masarone claimed his counsel did not tell him he had a right to wear street clothes during trial. Superior Court then failed to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter.

While the Supreme Court upheld the Superior Court’s conviction based on a lack of prejudice, “The record does not seem to explain why Masarone appeared at his trial in a prison uniform,” Justice James T. Vaughn Jr. wrote.

“Masarone claims that his attorney never advised him that he was entitled to wear regular street clothes. Trial counsel denies that and says that he did not inform him that he could wear regular street clothes …”

Ultimately, the conviction was upheld because “an instruction was given to the jury that no inference of guilt could be drawn from him being incarcerated” and, Judge Vaughn concluded

“in part, upon the fact that if Masarone were in street clothes a jury would nonetheless observe correctional officers dressed in blue uniforms seated near the defense table …”

Also, Judge Vaughn reasoned, “ … we cannot conclude that Masarone was compelled to go to trial in a prison uniform. In addition, given the nature of the evidence against Masarone, no arguable error on this point or on the lack of an evidentiary hearing could cause Masarone harm or prejudice.”

Masarone was arrested on Jan. 22, 2013, after police investigated a pickup truck crash into the Indian River Inlet bridge, according to court documents.

Masarone was convicted of a seventh offense DUI after a two-day Superior Court trial in July 2013, and sentenced to 15 years of Level V incarceration, suspended after seven years and successful completion of the Greentree Program for six months at Level IV work release followed by two years of Level III probation, papers said.

Previous concerns

In a separate notation, Chief Justice Leo Strine said he agreed with the Court’s “well-reasoned opinion” and “I write separately to note that this is just one of many recent cases in which an issue has been raised because a defendant was tried in prison clothes …”

Chief Justice Strine said other cases did not record why a “defendant was before the court in prison clothes.

“At best practice, a trial judge who comes into court and sees a defendant in prison clothes would be well advised to make a specific inquiry into the issue.”

If a defendant chooses to wear civilian clothes, Justice Strine maintained, arrangements should be made.

“ … it is my understanding that the Public Defender’s office keeps a collection of civilian clothes on hand for these situations, and it is certainly something that the Bench and Bar can work together to solve,” he wrote.

“The minor delay that might ensue in some situations is modest, especially given the reality that defendants should not be tried in prison clothes and that when they are and no contemporaneous record is made as to why, a litigable issue that will take the resources of the prosecution, defense, and judicial system will likely arise.”

The decision was rendered last Thursday after submission on March 2.

Attorney Christopher Koyste represented Masarone before the Supreme Court, with Deputy Attorney General Kathryn Garrison arguing for the state. Justice Randy Holland joined Chief Justice Strine and Justice Vaughn in hearing the case.

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