Appeals court: judge must guard against bias, not promote it

In Violent Crimesby RSF

Imagine yourself as a defendant in this hypothetical. You are seated before a judge who suddenly informs you that he wouldn’t want to share a fox hole with you because you would “fold like a cheap suit.” The court then follows up that utterance with synonyms characterizing you as “lazy,” “arrogant” and “self-seeking.” He tops off that collective description by stating that you “symbolize everything that’s wrong with the world.”

After hearing that assessment of your attributes and character, might you have just a bit of trepidation regarding the upcoming details of your sentencing outcome?

That above tale is actually not imaginary. A judge recently labeled a defendant in such terms in a real case, with a media report chronicling the matter noting that the court “repeated similar remarks multiple times during the [child support] proceeding”

The judicial icing on the cake was this: The clearly irate judge sentenced the defendant to a jail term that was four time in length the proposed incarceration term recommended for the offense.

We spotlight the case for our readers in St. Louis and across Missouri. Even though it is from a different state, it underscores the degree to which judicial fairness and impartiality can be undermined by bias, whether in a case involving violent crime, a drug offense, a white collar charge or any other matter.

The appellate court in the above-cited matter clearly regarded the case as being of paramount importance. Notably, it took the matter of bias up on appeal, despite no objection having been made at trial. The panel stated that it did so “in the interest of justice.”

The result was swift and clear, with the appellate decision unanimously holding that the lower court order must be reversed and the case remanded to another judge. The aforementioned article stressed that the appeals panel “tore into” the judge for the overt bias he displayed on the bench and the adverse implications it posed for achieving a just outcome.

A taint-free criminal law process is vital to preserve fundamental fair play in the U.S. justice system. That is true at every juncture, from initial police targeting/investigation to a judge’s powerful oversight and discretion exercised at trial.

The above appellate decision underscores that reality, as well as the importance of potential judicial intervention aimed at ensuring impartiality.