A Texas Appeals Court denied the appeal of Charles Dean Hood, a Texas death row inmate. The defense argued that the trial was tainted because the trial Judge was having a romantic affair with the prosecutor.
The defense argued that the affair tainted the trial, and resulted in “obvious and outrageous violations” of Hood’s constitutional rights. “No one would want to be prosecuted for a parking violation — let alone for capital murder — by a district attorney who is sleeping with the judge,” one of Hood’s attorneys said. “We are outraged by this breakdown in the integrity of the justice system. … Mr. Hood is entitled to a new trial before an impartial judge and a fair prosecutor.”
Many former prosecutors and federal and state judges, after hearing about the affair, signed a letter sent to the Governor stating that the sexual relationship “would have had a significant impact on the ability of the judicial system to accord Mr. Hood a fair and impartial trial.”
The Texas Court ruled that Hood’s attorneys should have brought the issue to the Court’s attention sooner. However, Hood’s attorneys explained that they could not because the affair was kept secret. The affair was apparently an open secret – and Hood’s trial lawyers heard rumors and innuendos about the affair.
Apparently everything is bigger in Texas, including the injustice. The constitution ensures criminal defendants a fair and impartial trial. This right is embodied in the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” My Criminal law Professor defined “due process” as simply “fundamental fairness.”
In New Jersey, a DWI is regarded as a traffic violation; however, the same protections that apply to a criminal defendant apply to a NJ DWI Defendant. In this regard, a DWI is often referred to as “quasi-criminal.” A Defendant is entitled to a fair trial before an impartial judge. New Jersey Court Rule 1:12 provides that a “judge of any court shall be disqualified … when there is any … reason which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing and judgment, or which might reasonably lead counsel or the parties to believe so.”
It is clear that if a Judge is sleeping with the Prosecutor, the Judge should not hear any cases prosecuted by her lover. Even if she could somehow put her blinders on and disregard the intimacy between her and the Prosecutor, under New Jersey law, that would not be enough. Under New Jersey Law, a “judge … shall be disqualified … when there is any … reason which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing and judgment, or which might reasonably lead counsel or the parties to believe so.” The appearance of bias alone warrants disqualification.
The Texas case is disturbing. Even assuming that the trial lawyers knew about the affair (and they could therefore have raised the issue before the trial), the Defendant’s Constitutional rights were still violated. The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures defendants the right to effective legal counsel. The trial was clearly tainted by a Judge who appeared biased. The failure to move to disqualify the Judge by trial counsel deprived the defendant of a fair trial. This is certainly a troubling case and ruling.
Greggory M. Marootian, Esq.