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Brazil: Use of Handcuffs Restricted to Exceptional Situations

(Sept. 3, 2008) On August 7, 2008, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court decided, by unanimous vote, that the use of handcuffs must be restricted to exceptional situations in which there are concrete threats to the safety of others, because handcuff use violates a person's constitutional citizenship rights, as established in article 5 of the Constitution. In light of the importance of the issue, the Supreme Court also decided to publish a decision (Súmula Vinculate No. 11) that binds the entire judiciary. It appeared on August 13 and makes the limitation on handcuff use applicable to all judicial proceedings and arrests, unless there is a reasonable suspicion that the person may escape or poses a danger to himself or others. The decision also makes arrests and judicial proceedings void if handcuffs are used inappropriately.

The decision to limit the use of handcuffs was made in response to an appeal filed by a person who was convicted of the crime of murder and sentenced to 13 years in prison. According to the appeal, the judge who presided over the jury trial that convicted the felon, without providing any reason for the action, forced the defendant to stay handcuffed during the session, which negatively influenced the jury. (STF Firma Entendimento de que Algemas Só Devem Ser Usadas em Caso Excepcionalíssimo, JURID, Aug. 7, 2008, available at