What is judicial bias?

One Constitutional right a defendant holds is that of a fair trial. Included with this right, is the right to have a judge with no actual bias against the defendant nor interest in the outcome of the defendant's case. A judge should never act as a defendant's proponent or opponent in any given case. When a defendant, in a criminal case, claims that the judge showed bias, the record from the trial is reviewed to see if the defendant was deprived his or her due process of law.

Bias, though, does not encompass unfavorable rulings, expressions of impatience, dissatisfaction, annoyance, nor anger. During the trial, if the judge makes critical, disapproving, or hostile comments to the counsel, parties, or about their cases, this still does not support a claim of bias.

A trial judge is permitted to make ordinary efforts at keeping up with the administration of the courtroom, even if his or her efforts are stern and short-tempered. In the Texas Appeals Case, McDaniel, a defense counsel went beyond the scope of material that should be presented in his opening statement. The trial judge in the case interrupted counsel to keep him on point, and explained to counsel what subjects needed to be addressed in his opening statement. After trial, the defendant claimed that the judge was displaying biased against his counsel. The appeals court though explained that the "trial judge may control the courtroom by asking defense counsel to confine himself to what is supposed to be in an opening statement."

Courts have explained that bias is a favorable or unfavorable opinion that is inappropriate because it is not deserved, rests upon knowledge that the judge should not possess, or because it is excessive. These remarks made by the trial judge, must reveal a high degree of favoritism or opposition making it impossible for the defendant to have a fair outcome.

In the Supreme Court case Liteky, German-American citizens were on trial in an espionage case. During the proceedings, the judge presiding over the case commented that German-Americans have hearts "reeking with disloyalty." This comment was found to be biased and reflective of a trial judge displaying partiality.

The Constitution is applicable to all citizens of the United States, whether defendant or judge. If a judge displays bias in any trial, as defined in the above information, he or she is not immune from having their actions examined.

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