The Sixth Amendment gives you the right to a fair trial. In general, this means your trial must happen in public, take place in a reasonable time and include an impartial and local jury. The government must also inform you of the charges against you, allow you to present and question witnesses and evidence and have a lawyer. Finally, your trial must include a judge who does not have a bias against you. If you don’t believe you had a fair trial, you can raise that argument in court.
Do you have the right to a fair trial in a criminal case?
Yes. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to a fair trial. It states as follows:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
As you can see, the amendment mentions several important rights. These rights include the right to a
- speedy trial,
- public trial,
- impartial jury and
- local jury.
These rights also include the right to
- be informed of the charges against you,
- confront witnesses against you,
- make sure your witnesses appear at trial and
- have the help of a lawyer.
But court decisions have also made it clear that the Sixth Amendment, combined with other rules of law, gives you the right to a judge without bias.
What can you do if your judge has a bias against you?
When you go to court, you expect the judge to be fair. You don’t expect them to have a bias against you (or anyone else). Usually, that proves true. While judges are not perfect, most of them try their best to be fair. But some could have a bias against you a bias that impacts you.
A judge could have a bias against your situation. If, for example, they were the victim of domestic violence, they might have a hard time being fair in domestic-violence cases. A judge could also have a bias against your attorney. If your attorney has been dishonest or unprofessional in their courtroom before, the judge may hold it against them and, as a result, you.
If you believe your judge has a bias and won’t give you a fair trial, there are things you can do. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to do anything. If a judge believes they won’t be fair, they can “recuse” themselves. Judges do this many times. A common, innocent example is if their husband or wife is a lawyer on the case. The judge simply recuses themselves, and no one has to worry about a bias.
Other times, you might have to file a motion and ask the judge to leave the case. This can be hard to do, especially if you accuse the judge of doing something wrong. Because of the nature of the motion, most judges have a different judge handle the motion itself. That other judge decides whether the original judge should stay on the case or not.
You have the constitutional right to a fair trial. Part of that right includes the right to a fair judge. If you believe your judge has a bias against you or your lawyer, you can file a motion for the judge to recuse themselves. Courts don’t grant these motions a lot, but it is possible.