Trial Judge Helped Prosecutors Convict Double-Murderer – State v. O’Brien
[12/29/09 – 10:20 am] This morning, the Supreme Court reversed a double-murder conviction based upon the active role the trial judge took in bolstering the testimony of witnesses for the State and while simultaneously expressing disbelief as to the testimony advanced by the defendant and his witnesses. The case explains the limitations imposed on trial judges in the questioning of witnesses from the bench. In this case, in the words of the Supreme Court, the trial judge cast a cloud over the defendant’s trial testimony, sought to impeach the defendant’s expert witness, hammered nails into the defense’s cross-examination while bolstering the State’s witnesses. Moreover, the Supreme Court noted that a defendant on trial in a New Jersey courtroom is entitled to be confronted by just one, single adversary in the person of the prosecutor and should not be subjected to the additional burden of a trial judge who disbelieves his evidence and conveys that impression to the jury.
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