Legal Question in Criminal Law in Michigan

At what point in the case should a judge recuse themselves if there is obvious bias?

Asked on 8/08/23, 11:27 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

What looks like obvious bias to some people often really isn't bias at all. Some people see bias when, for example, a judge repeatedly rules against them, but the actual reason is usually that the law wasn't on their side. Similarly, judges sometimes grow to distrust a party over time based on what they have seen and learned during the case. That's not bias either; it's a response to information that is properly before the court. A judge who doubts a party's honesty because he thinks her entire ethnic group is dishonest is biased. But he's not biased if he doubts her honesty because the evidence has shown her to be dishonest

Actual bias means a disposition in favor of one party or against another for reasons unrelated to the merits of the case. Such reasons can include animosity (or favoritism) based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But they can also include favoritism (or animosity) based on socioeconomic status, lifestyle, personal appearance, and any number of other factors. A judge who prefers one party over the other because she and the judge attended the same college is biased; so is a judge who distrusts a party because she's a realtor and he believes realtors are liars.

A judge who is actually biased should recuse him/herself as soon as the bias becomes apparent, whether through the judge's own thought processes or because someone points it out. Most, and perhaps all, U.S. jurisdictions also require judges to recuse themselves if a reasonable person would question their impartiality, whether the judge is actually biased or not. For example, a judge who owns some Microsoft stock would typically have to recuse herself from cases in which Microsoft is a party, even if owning the stock won't affect her decision-making.

The standards vary from one state to another, as do the procedures for dealing with bias. A local attorney can give you more specifics than I can.

Good luck

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Answered on 8/08/23, 12:20 pm

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