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Court upholds conviction of handcuffed defendant

In a Nassau County case, New York’s top court said even though a defendant was improperly kept in handcuffs during his trial, the error was harmless to the outcome.

Emil Best was convicted in 2007 of endangering the welfare of a child in Island Park when he allegedly offered a 12-year-old boy $50 to expose himself. Best, a friend of the boy’s family, said it was a jest.

Best’s lawyers contend he was denied a fair trial because the local judge ordered him handcuffed in the courtroom — poisoning the jury against him, attorneys claim.

New York’s Court of Appeals, in a 5-1 decision, said the trial judge erred — but that the facts of the case overwhelmingly supported Best’s conviction.

“We conclude that the trial court’s omission was indeed harmless,” Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote for the majority. “A constitutional error may be harmless where evidence of guilt is overwhelming and there is no reasonable possibility that it affected the outcome of the trial.”

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman disagreed strongly, saying: “Visible shackles give the impression to any trier of fact that a person is violent, a miscreant and cannot be trusted.”

State prison records show Best, 31 years old at the time of conviction, was released on parole in 2010.

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