SD Judge Known for Pro-Gun Rulings Censured for Handcuffing Teen Girl During Hearing

Gun Rights
Judge Roger Benitez
Judge Roger Benitez. Official court photo

A San Diego federal judge was reprimanded by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday for ordering the teenage daughter of a defendant handcuffed during her father’s sentencing hearing.

The official censure from the 9th Circuit’s Judicial Council concerns U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez‘ instructions to have a deputy marshal place a 13-year-old girl in handcuffs in February of last year, something the council wrote “constitute(s) abusive or harassing behavior.”

As part of the reprimand, Benitez will not be assigned new criminal cases for three years and attorneys may request to recuse him from sentencing hearings for supervised release violations — the same type of violation that led to the sentencing hearing at the heart of the reprimand.

The judge has gained national notoriety for his rulings in support of gun rights, with Gov. Gavin Newsom describing him as “a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.”

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Benitez explained that his intent in the handcuffing was to keep the girl from heading down a path of using drugs.

Her father, who had a drug-related history, told Benitez during the sentencing hearing that his daughter had used marijuana and he feared she would be “following the same footsteps as I am right now.”

Benitez then had the girl placed in handcuffs and asked her, “You see where your dad is?” and later asked, “How did you like the way those cuffs felt on you?”

Later he told the girl, “That was the message I was hoping to get to you. So your dad’s made some serious mistakes in his life, and look at where it’s landed him. And as a result of that, he has to spend time away from you. And if you’re not careful, young lady, you’ll wind up in cuffs, and you’ll find yourself right there where I put you a minute ago.”

Witness accounts differ on how long the girl was handcuffed, but several people reported she was crying throughout the hearing and after leaving the courtroom.

The council wrote that Benitez responded to complaints about the incident by stating “that his actions were motivated by a desire to change the alleged behavior of (the defendant’s) daughter and to potentially change the behavior of (the defendant) as well.” He said that no one objected to his order at the time and also said he’d be willing to apologize to the girl “if I could also briefly explain why I did what I did.”

The council wrote that his conduct was “impermissible” in two ways.

“First, the shackling of a spectator at a hearing who is not engaged in threatening or disorderly behavior exceeds the authority of a district judge. Second, creating a spectacle out of a minor child in the courtroom chills the desire of friends, family members, and members of the public to support loved ones at sentencing.”

The council also wrote that though Benitez “maintained that he acted only with the best intentions,” his actions harmed the girl and “impaired the public’s trust in the institution.”

City News Service contributed to this article.

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