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Supreme Court: Judges Who Were Significantly Involved in Cases as Prosecutors Must Recuse

There is a risk of bias that is impermissible under the Due Process Clause where the judge in a case previously had significant, personal involvement in a critical decision in the case while serving as prosecutor.  This is a structural error not subject to harmless error review regardless of whether his vote was dispositive in the case.  The Court wrote:

Bias is easy to attribute to others and difficult to discern in oneself. To establish an enforceable and workable framework, the Court's precedents apply an objective standard that, in the usual case, avoids having to determine whether actual bias is present. The Court asks not whether a judge harbors an actual, subjective bias, but instead whether, as an objective matter, “the average judge in his position is ‘likely’ to be neutral, or whether there is an unconstitutional ‘potential for bias.’” Caperton, 556 U.S., at 881, 129 S.Ct. 2252. Of particular relevance to the instant case, the Court has determined that an unconstitutional potential for bias exists when the same person serves as both accuser and adjudicator in a case. See Murchison, 349 U.S., at 136–137, 75 S.Ct. 623. This objective risk of bias is reflected in the due process maxim that “no man can be a judge in his own case and no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome.” Id., at 136, 75 S.Ct. 623.

See: Williams v. Pennsylvania, 136 S.Ct. 1899 (2016).

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Related legal case

Williams v. Pennsylvania