Handcuffing in the United States has become ubiquitous, regardless of age, offense, or circumstances. Across the nation, children, teenagers, women, men, and elders are handcuffed upon arrest for the most minor offenses. Their ages range from five to ninety-seven. This phenomenon has received little attention from legal scholars, despite its dramatic reversal of a long-standing common law rule.
At common law, police officers were prohibited from handcuffing arrestees absent special circumstances, such as a threat to safety, resistance, or risk of escape. Established in nineteenth-century England and embraced early by U.S. courts, this principle still prevails in most common law jurisdictions, yet it has all but vanished in the United States.
In response to the handcuffing of arrestees, judges apply selective case memory rather than follow long-standing common law principles. This has resulted in a profound divide between members of the judiciary and common citizens, who witness in disbelief the disappearance of their right to be treated with dignity upon arrest.