Nearly ten years ago, a Wisconsin man set out to get a new trial after he was convicted of sexual assault. He believed that he had new evidence that would prove that he did not commit the crime he was accused of.
Being accused of any crime, as many previous posts have discussed, can lead to a number of consequences, not just the legal penalties that a conviction carries. An allegation, even if ultimately unsubstantiated, can severely damage one's reputation and future opportunities both personally and professionally.
While there is no information as to what this particular man has been dealing with the past decade, it is clear that he passionately believes that the new evidence could prove he was not guilty of sexual assault.
But in his attempt for a new trial, he ran into a setback when he discovered that a judge who had ruled on his case back in 2002 would be one of the judges ruling on his case now. He wanted the judge recused from the case. However, Wisconsin's Supreme Court decided in a split vote that the act of recusal is the judge's personal decision.
But is this fair? Would this give the man a fair trial? Can the judge make a decision the second time around without being influenced by information gleaned in the first trial?
This decision could have serious implications beyond the sexual assault case. To citizens, this could appear like the court is allowing situations where there could be bias or partiality. Should the public be concerned? Does this imply that judges can decide for themselves whether they are being impartial or not?
Source: Superior Telegram online, "Divided Supreme Court rules justices can decide the same case at two levels," Gilman Halsted, 13 July 2011