Thursday, October 12, 2006

Reversal based on judicial bias

In U.S. v. Franco-Guillen, the Tenth Circuit reversed a illegal entry conviction after Judge Belot went into a tirade about Hispanic defendants in his courtroom. The government conceded that reversal was required:

The judge's statements on the record would cause a reasonable person to harbor doubts about his impartiality, without regard to whether the judge actually harbored bias against Franco-Guillen on account of his Hispanic heritage. See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) . . . When at the initial sentencing hearing the district judge perceived that Franco-Guillen was lying about his understanding of the plea agreement, the judge stated, "I will not put up with this from these Hispanics or anybody else, any other defendants." The judge compounded the impropriety of his reference to defendant's ethnicity when he then stated: "I've got another case involving a Hispanic defendant who came in here and told me that he understood what was going on and that everything was fine and now I've got a 2255 from him saying he can't speak English." While the district court's statements may well reflect frustration with Franco-Guillen's apparent, albeit unexplored, contradictions between the change of plea hearing and the sentencing hearing, his reference to Hispanics and his use of an example of another Hispanic defendant in discussing Franco-Guillen's perceived lack of truthfulness would cause a reasonable person "to harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality" in this case.

Well, I guess I would harbor some doubts if I was Mr. Franco-Guillen.

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