When a Judge’s Articulated Personal Bias Leads to Resentencing

As a vital component of the criminal trial process, sentencing requires fairness, impartiality and sound reasoning by the judge who imposes the sentence.  When that process is impeded by personal bias, the result is often unsettling.  As one recent case demonstrates, a judge’s apparent personal bias may require resentencing, even when the sentence falls within the sentencing guidelines.

A case involving federal judge Rudolph T. Randa

In a recent federal case out of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, a convicted drug dealer received an 84 month sentence, which was ultimately vacated, requiring him to be resentenced.  The defendant, Billy J. Robinson, Jr. pled guilty to charges that he was part of heroin trafficking ring transporting drugs from Illinois to Wisconsin.  U.S. District Court Judge Randa accepted his guilty plea and sentenced him to 84 months on Robinson.  Even when a federal judges imposes a sentence within the federal sentencing guidelines, they are still required to explain reasoning for the sentence they impose.

In this particular case, the judge’s explanation demonstrated a strong personal bias, which led him to berate the defendant and essentially blame him for problems the judge perceived to exist in the community as a whole.  Unfortunate for the defendant, Judge Randa was from the same neighborhood in Milwaukee in which Robinson admitted to distributing heroin. Before imposing the sentence on Robinson, Judge Randa began discussing the “old neighborhood” and how it had become ravaged by drugs.  In his discussion, however, the judge demonstrated an apparent grudge he personally held against the Defendant.

The Seventh Circuit was troubled by the Judge’s rant

The Seventh Circuit found the judge’s comments “troubling because they could be ‘understood as a personal grudge that the judge bore against [Robinson] for dealing drugs in his old neighborhood. They appear to attribute ‘issues of broad local [and] national … scope’—changing crime rates—to Robinson’s crime, when these issues at best ‘only tangentially relate to his underlying conduct. Robinson was not charged with a violent crime or a crime involving a firearm, nor did his criminal history include any such crimes.”  It appeared that the judge inserted a personal bias into the sentencing proceedings, thereby destroying even an appearance of impartiality.  Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit vacated Robinson’s sentence and sent the case back to Judge Randa for resentencing.

If you have questions regarding sentencing, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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