Preventing Unfair Bias In Criminal Trials

There are many factors that can influence a criminal case beyond the details of the alleged crime itself, including bias in court proceedings. If there is misconduct on the part of a prosecutor, a juror or even a judge, it could unfairly bias the outcome of the case.

A significant aspect of the job of a criminal defense attorney is to make sure that his or her client receives a fair trial. Protecting against bias is especially important in high-profile cases and cases involving charges like domestic violence, in which emotions tend to run high. When a key player in the case does engage in misconduct, it could ultimately result in a mistrial.

Although it didn’t happen here in Nevada, a recent case is an example of how misconduct can lead to mistrial. In April of 2014, a Texas man was on trial for charges of unlawful restraint of a child. According to news sources, the man occasionally locked his 9-year-old son in a 6-foot by 8-foot plywood enclosure set up inside the boy’s room. His son had apparently displayed very violent tendencies and he said the enclosure was partially for the safety of himself and his wife.

The media had dubbed the trial as “the boy in the box” case, a term which the man’s defense attorney objected to in court. The judge in the case denied the motion to use “wooden enclosure” instead of “box.” A short time later, the judge posted about the case on her public Facebook page, mentioning the media name of the case and a link to a news article about it.

It is generally inappropriate for a judge to comment publicly on any current case, much less to comment in a way that could show or cause bias. The man’s attorney sought a mistrial and to have the judge recused, both of which were granted.

In November, the defendant went on trial again and was found not guilty. Earlier this month, the original judge in the case received a public scolding by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission also ordered her to participate in four hours of education on “proper and ethical use of social media by judges.”

America’s media landscape is so saturated with news coverage that even finding impartial jurors is becoming difficult. If judges cannot be impartial and discrete about the cases they try, they need to be removed from those cases.

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