Friday, March 1, 2013

Neutral and detached? Just forget about it

There we are. Milling about in the court room for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 2 waiting for Judge Bill Harmon to grace us with his presence.

Then, out he emerges from the hall carrying a large sign with him that he props up on the bookcase behind the bench - right next to his plaque from MADD. The sign was bright yellow and announced that the average person arrested for drunk driving had driven drunk 87 times before being caught.

A quick check on this internet thing reveals that this alleged statistic pops up a lot. And, interestingly enough, no one ever cites a source for it. But that's all a bit beside the point right now.

The larger question is what in the hell is a judge in a criminal court doing putting up a sign like that behind the bench? Is he trying to send a message to everyone in the courtroom that he's serious about DWI cases? Or is he letting everyone know that he isn't even going to put up the pretense that he's neutral and detached?

Judge Harmon's job is to sit on the bench and act as a neutral and detached referee for disputes involving prosecutors and defense attorneys. His job is to sit on the bench and ensure that the constitutional rights of the defendant are protected? His job is to ensure that a defendant's due process rights aren't violated.

His job is not to sit up high and promote his agenda in the courtroom.

His newest sign is good evidence that he cannot be unbiased and neutral when it comes to DWI cases. He's already telling the defendant that he believes the defendant has driven drunk scores of times before he ever came to court. Just what might that mean when it comes to punishment after a guilty verdict? Is he going to order a sentence based upon the facts of the case at hand or is he going to base it upon his belief that this isn't the defendant's first rodeo?

The fact that he sees no problem in putting up the sign is troubling enough without wondering why no one else has questioned the practice. One must wonder what would happen if a judge put up a sign that said the NHTSA battery of coordination exercises is wrong almost 25% of the time. How long would it take for that judge to get a memo that he needs to remove the sign from the courtroom?


Dan said...

Gee, you don't think that'll have any impact on a jury, do you?

Paul B. Kennedy said...

He doesn't bring the sign out for trial (at least as far as I know). But, if you know where to look, you can find the MADD plaque behind him.