When Utah's new federal courthouse opened last week, it came with security improvements that are becoming standard: separate entrances and elevators for judges, defendants and the public; bullet-resistant glass and paneling; and vehicle barricades to keep car bombs at bay, reports the Associated Press. Even the design of the courtrooms, with plenty of sunlight and space, can help calm witnesses or defendants in high-stress cases. Nothing can prevent every courtroom outburst. On Monday, a 230-pound, pen-wielding defendant rushed a witness during a racketeering trial and was fatally shot by a U.S. marshal.
Shootings at federal courthouses are rare. Last year, a former police officer said he was dying of cancer was killed by law enforcement officers after he sprayed bullets into a federal courthouse in West Virginia. In 2012, a man committed suicide at a federal courthouse in Alabama. In 2010, a man started shooting in the lobby of the Las Vegas federal courthouse, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy U.S. marshal. The gunman was killed. Shootings inside courtrooms are even less common, largely because metal detectors ensure that armed spectators do not reach them. Defendants usually are not shackled at trial. That makes their outbursts unpredictable. Courts have held that it is unfair to defendants for jurors to see them restrained. It's unclear whether the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security for judges and federal courthouses, had any unusual concerns about security in the Utah case.