Florida Court Discusses Disqualifications of Judges in Criminal Matters

Judges have a duty to be fair and impartial when presiding over criminal matters, but many judges harbor implicit or explicit biases. A judge’s prejudices may make it difficult or impossible to receive a fair trial, but fortunately, parties that suspect a judge of being biased can file a motion for disqualification. Recently, a Florida court issued a ruling describing the grounds for granting such a motion in a case in which the defendant argued the court erred in denying his motion due to the judge’s conduct during his competency hearing. If you are accused of a crime, it is important to know your rights, and it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Competency Hearing

Allegedly, the defendant was charged with committing numerous crimes. Prior to trial, a hearing was held to determine the defendant’s competency. The State argued that the defendant was competent, while the defendant’s attorney argued he was not. Three expert witnesses testified regarding the defendant’s competency. The judge asked each witness regarding the information in his report. The witness who found the defendant to be incompetent stated he based his report on information from defense counsel, and the court discredited his testimony.

It is reported that the court asked if the defendant’s attorney wanted to call the defendant to the stand. She declined, after which the court stated it might be helpful for the court. The defendant then answered questions from the court about the medications he was taking and his ability to work with counsel. The court then deemed the defendant competent to stand trial, after which the defendant filed a motion to disqualify. The court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

Disqualifications of Florida Judges

A motion to disqualify will be denied if it fails to set forth a well-grounded fear on the part of the defendant that he will not receive a fair hearing due to a clearly described prejudice or bias of the judge. The fear must be objectively reasonable, as a subjective fear is not sufficient grounds for disqualification. Thus, the courts must review whether the facts asserted would place a person of reasonable prudence in fear of not receiving an impartial and fair trial.

In the subject case, the defendant alleged that the court engaged in improper questioning during the competency hearing, which was used to discredit the defendant’s witness’ opinion, and improperly called the defendant as a witness. The court found that the defendant conflated the judge’s ability to participate in a competency hearing with prejudice and concluded the defendant had not established a well-grounded fear that he would not receive a fair trial. Thus, his appeal was denied.

Speak to a Trusted Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

It is crucial that criminal defendants are afforded fair trials, and if they believe their rights are being denied, they should seek legal counsel. If you are charged with a crime, it is vital to retain an attorney well-versed in the criminal process who can advise you of your options for seeking the best legal result available under the facts of your case. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a trusted Tampa attorney who can help you fight in pursuit of a successful result. You can reach Mr. Hanlon through the form online or by calling 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.