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RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald
State v. Nunes, 205 A.2d 24 (R.I. 1964), sets the standard: “Not only must the judges residing over the courts be honest, unbiased, impartial, disinterested in fact, but it is of the utmost importance that all suspicion to the contrary must be jealously guarded against and if possible be completely eliminated, if we are to give full effect and dignity of the bench and maintain public confidence in its integrity and usefulness.”
State v. Nordstrom, 408 A.2d 601 (R.I. 1979). Trial judge should have recused himself after referring to defendants as “bad bastards” in a conversation with defense counsel. R.I.S.C. reversed and remanded.
Taylor v. Wall, 821 A.2d 685 (R.I. 2003). Defendant convicted of burglary, kidnapping, and first-degree child molestation applied for post-conviction relief alleging in part that trial justice made prejudicial comments to jury regarding the use of videotaped testimony of complaining witness given outside the presence of defendant. Specifically, the judge warned that the jury was not to infer from the use of videotape either defendant’s guilt or a need to protect the complaining witness from defendant. R.I.S.C. upheld trial court’s denial of post-conviction relief.
State v. Brown, 798 A.2d 942 (R.I. 2002). Trial justice improperly engaged in colloquy with jury foreperson over the meaning of answers given during defense cross-examination of state’s fingerprint expert. When defense counsel objected, the trial justice interrupted and prevented further comment. R.I.S.C. held that although the conduct was impermissible it was harmless, and denied defendant’s appeal.
State v. Oliveira, 774 A.2d 893 (R.I. 2001). After discovering that a witness’s microphone was turned off, the trial judge in a first“degree murder case responded, “Sometimes you are just surrounded by assassins.”,Id.at 915. R.I.S.C. held that the trial judge was impartial and did not commit error.
Mattatall v. State, 947 A.2d 896 (R.I. 2008). When sentencing defendant pursuant to habitual offender statute, trial judge articulated his reasons for enhancing sentence by stating that defendant had lied under oath and that record indicated defendant had an “attitude of hostility and a propensity for violent and volatile behavior.” R.I.S.C. held that the statements did not demonstrate prejudice or bias requiring the judge to recuse himself from defendant’s subsequent application for post-conviction relief.
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