A few weeks ago we reported on the sentencing of a former federal judge, adjudicated for buying drugs with his stripper-girlfriend, negotiating the purchase with weapons in the vehicle, and giving her a state purchased laptop. Part of his plea for leniency included the effects of a years-old motorcycle accident, an accident that resulted in brain damage and reportedly a subsequent lack of impulse control. It was unclear at the time when the judge was mounting his own defense if he knew this defense would open the floodgates for offenders he had sentenced from the bench.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he sentenced about 3,000 cases in his time on the bench, though only some of these are expected to be challenged. The argument, that the judge’s brain damage may have impacted his ability to make fair and just decisions on the bench. After all, if it played a role in his own criminal activity, defense lawyers will argue, who’s to say it didn’t play a role in his professional decision making?
Also at issue is racial bias. In court records of his own case, the judge admitted to his prostitute-girlfriend that he had a hard time judging African American men because he knew her former boyfriend was African American. At least one appeal is based in this claim of racial bias.
The Constitution reports one expert who says the part of the judge’s brain which would’ve been used in his official decisions wasn’t impacted by the motorcycle accident. It isn’t clear if this expert was someone hired by the defense or a neutral party.
The judge’s defense lawyer also states that his brain injuries played no role in the judge’s ability to handle cases with a just hand.
Another expert, a psychologist who teaches at both Morehouse and Emory, states the judge’s bipolar disorder may have played a role as well. He claims the symptoms of this psychological disorder wax and wane and when asked specifically if they could impact someone’s judgment, he states “Certainly, that’s possible.”
It isn’t clear how many convicted under the judge will seek a review of their cases but US Attorney Sally Yates stated she will be considering requests from defendants of his. Most of those will be requesting a review of their sentence, not an entirely new trial.
During sentencing and even the trial phase, it would’ve been difficult to know this judge was suffering from brain damage. As a matter of fact, the issue probably never would have came up had he not used it in his own criminal defense. But because the application of justice must be fair, this is just one situation in which reviews of his cases is warranted.
A judge facing criminal charges in Georgia is a very unusual situation. But regardless of the client, it is the job of a criminal defense attorney to ensure you get fair and just treatment within the criminal justice system. Ensuring your rights are protected at every stage of the game is essential in this process.
If you are facing criminal charges and are curious about your options and the likelihood that you’ll be spending time in prison, contact our offices for a free initial consultation.