The defendant in a Broward County criminal case recently won the right to a new trial after his lawyers argued that comments made by the judge indicated the judge was not impartial. The man was facing an attempted murder charge arising out of an incident in which he allegedly set his wife on fire. The woman survived, but with serious burns over most of her body.
Before the case was to go to trial, the man’s lawyers negotiated a plea agreement under which the man would plead guilty and serve 20 years in prison. But during a hearing to enter the new plea, the judge made comments that showed sympathy for the victim and outrage over the heinous nature of the allegations. The judge then said he wished he could give the defendant the death penalty.
The man’s lawyers asked the judge to remove himself, but the judge would not agree to do so. The man was convicted, and appealed his conviction. The appeals court agreed with his lawyers’ argument that the man was reasonable to fear the judge was not impartial, based on his comments. They overturned the conviction and sent the case back to Broward County for a new trial.
A defendant facing felony charges in Florida has the right to a fair trial before an unbiased judge. Justice is not served when a judge makes comments before trial that lead the defendant to believe the judge has prejudged the defendant. The fact that the alleged crime was a heinous one makes a fair trial more important, not less.
Source: Sun-Sentinel, “Court overturns attempted murder conviction over Broward judge’s comments,” Rafael Olmeda, May 1, 2014